OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – The Oklahoma City Thunder are more than just Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
A game after scoring a combined 72 points, Oklahoma City’s All-Star duo got plenty of help from the rest of the Thunder to build a commanding first-half lead and beat the Denver Nuggets 106-89 in Game 2 on Wednesday night.
The first-round playoff series shifts to Denver on Saturday night with Oklahoma City leading 2-0.
“Everybody chipped in tonight,” said Durant, the NBA’s scoring champion the past two seasons. “That’s what we’re going to need.”
Durant scored 23 points and Westbrook added 21, but everyone else contributed to a dominant early stretch that propelled Oklahoma City to a 26-point lead early in the second quarter.
Ty Lawson scored 20 points to lead Denver, which could only get as close as 10 in the fourth quarter before Oklahoma City put the game away.
Ty Lawson of the Denver Nuggets drives to the basket against Kendrick Perkins #5 and Russell Westbrook #0 both of the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 20. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
“We gave them too many minutes, too many possessions of they were totally in control,” Denver coach George Karl said. “They were energized, they were more physical, they were quicker, probably smarter. … The hole was just too big. When it looked like we could get it under 10, a 3-ball would go in or an offensive rebound would break our heart.”
The rematch of a series opener that went right down to the wire and featured a controversial non-call on a goaltending on the Thunder’s go-ahead basket with 65 seconds left couldn’t have been much different than Game 1.
Oklahoma City got a balanced performance, with James Harden providing 18 points and Serge Ibaka adding 12 points and 12 rebounds. Kendrick Perkins had 11 rebounds as the Thunder piled up a 41-19 edge on the boards by late in the third quarter.
“We’ve done it all year,” coach Scott Brooks said. “You don’t win the games we’ve won just having one or two guys. I really believed those guys were going to step up and score some points.”
Nene and Raymond Felton added 16 points apiece for the Nuggets.
Denver made a brief rally to get within 86-76 after consecutive layups by Lawson and Felton with 8:33 to play, but Brooks called a timeout to get Westbrook back in the game and stop the comeback.
Oklahoma City held Denver without a basket for 3 minutes to get started on a 14-5 run that put the game away. Westbrook hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key, then stuck out three fingers on each hand, blew on them and stuck them down to his sides as if holstering them.
Durant let out a scream after leaping to slam down Daequan Cook’s missed 3-pointer on the next possession, and the celebration was on.
But not for long. The Thunder are only halfway to their first playoff series win since relocating from Seattle, and there’s more work to be done.
“If come with the wrong mind set, not focused and not prepared right, it’ll be tough for us to win — especially in Denver,” Durant said. “But I don’t worry about that. I think we prepare right, our coaches do a great job, we go out and play hard.
“If we do that, we give ourselves chance to win.”
Oklahoma City has beaten the Nuggets four times in 16 days, sweeping regular-season games on each team’s court in a four-day stretch earlier this month and now protecting home court to start the playoffs.
To stay alive, Denver must return the favor by winning four of five over an eight-day span.
“They are really good. You expect them to play like that,” Denver’s Danilo Gallinari said. “But we just have to play better.”
In a reversal from the first game, it was the Thunder who came out hot.
Durant and Westbrook opened the game with 3-pointers, and Oklahoma City cruised to a 29-10 lead late in the first quarter. Kenyon Martin and Karl both drew technical fouls for the frustrated Nuggets, who seemed to be constantly looking for whistles that didn’t come.
Harden hit two 3-pointers as Oklahoma City scored 12 of the first 14 points in the second quarter to make it 43-17 within the first 15 1/2 minutes of the game.
In Game 1, Denver made its first seven shots and led by 13 on three occasions in the first half.
“We didn’t want those guys to come out and have a shooting barrage like they did in Game 1,” Durant said. “I think we forced them into some tough shots. They missed a few easy ones, but I think we did a good job of closing the paint and putting Nene on the free throw line as opposed to giving him dunks like he did in Game 1.”
Al Harrington finally brought the Nuggets to life with a 3-pointer from the top of the key, starting a string of seven straight points for Denver. Within 5 minutes, the Nuggets shaved 14 points off the deficit.
Harrington made another 3 in a 9-0 run, and Denver was suddenly within 50-38 after Lawson’s jumper along the right side of the lane with 3:42 left before halftime.
The comeback fizzled, though, as the Nuggets made just one basket in the first 5 minutes of the second half.
“It’s a game to four, and we’ve got two points. That’s how we look at it,” Nick Collison said. “We need three and four to move on, so we’ll be ready to play when we get there.”
NOTES: After making their first seven shots in Game 1, the Nuggets missed their first six in Game 2 and got their first make off Ibaka’s goaltend of a fast-break layup by Lawson. … Karl said before the game he remembered being suspended while coaching in the CBA for kicking a ball toward the head of official Monty McCutchen, who was part of Wednesday night’s crew. … Reserves J.R. Smith and Chris Andersen didn’t play in the second half for the Nuggets. Karl said when Smith came into the game — 33 seconds before Andersen — was when the “flood gates” opened. The Thunder’s lead went from 10 to 25 with the two on the court together.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)