Durant scores career-high 54 as Thunder top the Warriors, 127-121

In a battle of two of the best teams in the Western conference, the game lived up to the expectations as three of the NBA’s most potent scorers got off to hot starts. Kevin Durant, who finished with a career-high 54 points, started off 10-for-11 from the field and the Splash Brothers started off their night raining down a combined 9-for-12 from three.

The score after one quarter was 39-32 in what was destined to be a shootout all night long. The problems arose for the Golden State Warriors where they have been all year: free throws. There was a stretch in the first quarter where Hack-a-Bogut, Steph Curry, and David Lee combined to miss seven consecutive free throws. It’s beyond me how a team that is so prolific from outside the arc is so poor when they’re at the line. Draymond Green, a guy I believe is one of the most underrated players in the league, has shot down from 82 percent from the line last year to 56 percent this year. And Andre Iguodala, despite his defensive playmaking and offensive facilitating, is just as bad on freebies.

That simply did not bode well but with Curry and Thompson shooting out of their mind, the Warriors stayed in the game. Curry and Thompson combined to finish with 63 points and 12-of-19 from three.

Offensive rebounding was huge for the Oklahoma City Thunder which led to multiple second chance opportunities despite the fact that both teams finished with the same number of rebounds on the offensive glass (12). When Golden State tried to slow down the scoring machine that was Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka was there to hit mid-range jumper after mid-range jumper…a much improved area of his game. Kirk Goldsberry pointed out in a recent article that the man from Congo has the best midrange shot in the game ahead of the likes of Chris Paul, Luke Ridnour, and Chris Bosh. Now, of course he’s not creating for himself like his teammate Kevin Durant or his opponent today, Steph Curry, but it’s impressive nonetheless as this graphic shows.

Harrison Barnes, who leads the Warriors second squad, was non-existent today which really hurt. 0-of-4 from the field and no free throw attempts will not help what is already the league’s worst scoring bench. Golden State should have hope in their recent acquisition of Jordan Crawford, however, who managed eight points on 3-of-4 from the field and 2-of-2 from downtown in limited minutes. There certainly is a chance that this guy can put on his best Jarrett Jack impersonation for this Warriors team. Jack averaged 13 points, 6 assists, and three rebounds for the Warriors in 2013, and thus far this year, Crawford averages a nearly identical 14-6-3 (but in a starting role for Boston).

In the end, though, OKC’s scoring was too much. When a team goes 58 percent from the field and 73 percent from the line…it’s going to be tough to beat that. Kevin Durant was hitting everything from everywhere, from step-back jumpers and threes to backdoor cuts and drives to the rim. He was, as Jon Barry mentioned about 5,412,089 times on the ESPN broadcast, unstoppable. It’s one of those nights that you tip your hat to the player who is favored to win the NBA MVP and is averaging 35 points in the month of January.

Oklahoma City’s next game is Sunday against the Kings as they continue their three-game home-stand and Golden State heads to New Orleans to face the Pelicans tomorrow before a long homestand.

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