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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Kevin Durant delivered the fourth quarter LeBron James never could last year.
So forget those NBA Finals jitters at the start. Durant and the young Thunder showed they have already figured out how to finish.
Durant scored 17 of his 36 points in another nightmarish final period for James and his team, leading a Thunder storm that overwhelmed the Heat and gave Oklahoma City a 105-94 victory over Miami in Game 1.
Teaming with Russell Westbrook to outscore the Heat in the second half by themselves, Durant struck first in his head-to-head matchup with James, who had seven points in the final quarter and was helpless to stop the league’s three-time scoring champion.
“Well, those guys, they came out on fire. They were passing the ball well, knocking down shots. We just wanted to continue to keep playing,” Durant said. “It’s a long game, and every time our coach was just saying play harder, play harder, and that’s what we did.”
Westbrook turned around a poor shooting start to finish with 27 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds for the Thunder, keying a strong finish to the third period that gave the Thunder the lead for good.
Durant took over from there.
Scoring in nearly every way possible, Durant finished 12 of 20 from the field and added eight rebounds. He and Westbrook outscored the Heat 41-40 over the final two periods, showing that maybe this time it will be offense that wins championships.
James finished with 30 points, his most in any of his 11 finals games, but had only one basket over the first 8:15 of the fourth, when the Thunder seized control of a game they trailed for all but the final few seconds of the first three quarters.
James averaged just three points in the fourth quarters of the Heat’s six-game loss to Dallas last year, taking almost all the heat for Miami’s finals failure. He was good in this one, Durant was just better.
“They didn’t make many mistakes in the fourth quarter,” James said.
And when fans chanted “MVP! MVP!” late in the game, they weren’t talking about James, the guy who won the regular-season award.
They meant Durant, who is in a race with James for his first ring — and maybe the title of best player in the game.