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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — After years of nagging Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks not to take him out of games, Kevin Durant finally got his wish.
Durant had 34 points and 14 rebounds while playing all of regulation for the first time all season, and the Thunder claimed a spot in the NBA finals by beating the San Antonio Spurs 107-99 on Wednesday night.
Russell Westbrook added 25 points for the Thunder, who trailed Game 6 of the Western Conference finals by 18 in the first half and erased a 15-point halftime deficit before pulling ahead to stay in the fourth.
“It’s an amazing moment for him to play like this in this moment, in this setting, and I wasn’t going to take him out,” Brooks said.
“I was not going to take him out. I don’t care how many times he looked at me fatigued. He has enough, and I think all of our guys have enough to play. You just have to fight through it.”
Durant grabbed the final rebound, dribbled the ball across halfcourt and raised his right fist to celebrate with a sold-out crowd wearing free white T-shirts.
The franchise will play for the NBA title for the first time since 1996, before relocating from Seattle.
Even before the final buzzer, Durant indulged by hugging his mother and brother seated courtside after a foul was called with 14 seconds remaining.
“I never want to take those moments for granted,” Durant said. “I know it’s just one step closer to our dreams, but it felt good.”
Tony Parker had 29 points and 12 assists for San Antonio, but only eight of the points and two assists came in the second half.
The Thunder outscored the Spurs 59-36 after falling behind 63-48 at halftime and getting a challenge from Brooks that he said had “nothing to do” with committing eight turnovers against only six assists while allowing San Antonio to shoot 9 for 15 on 3-pointers.
“It just had everything to do with who we are as men, who we are as a team, the type of spirit that we want to show every time down the court,” Brooks said. “It was all about that, about body language, about being a family. I thought our guys did that the first possession of that second half and they did not look back.”
Tim Duncan chipped in 25 points and 14 rebounds, and Stephen Jackson scored 23 as San Antonio lost its fourth straight after becoming only the fourth team in NBA history to win 20 games in a row.
In the process, the Spurs pushed past Oklahoma City for the best record in the league and home-court advantage in the playoffs. But the Thunder took that back by winning Game 5 in San Antonio on Monday night.
“There’s not much to complain about,” San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili said. “We had a great run. We just couldn’t beat these guys.”
The Thunder, only three years removed from a 3-29 start that had them on pace for the worst record in NBA history, went through the only three West teams to reach the finals since 1998 — Dallas, the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio — to earn their shot at the title.
Game 1 of the NBA finals will be Tuesday night in Oklahoma City against either Boston or Miami. The Celtics lead that series 3-2 and can earn a trip to the finals with a win at home in Game 6 on Thursday night.
The Thunder took the lead for good early in the fourth quarter, getting nine of their first 13 points on free throws as the fouls started to pile up for San Antonio — six on the defensive end and three on the offensive end in the first 7 minutes.
Even Durant drew what he thought was his first charge of the season, stepping in front of Ginobili.
Derek Fisher and James Harden hit 3-pointers in a three-possession span to increase the lead to 99-93 with 3:13 remaining. Jackson, who had made his previous six 3-pointers, and Parker both missed 3s that would have gotten the Spurs within 103-102 in the final minute.
The Spurs put up quite a fight, at least for the first half.
Parker, who had been largely bottled up ever since the Thunder put 6-foot-7 defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha on him in Game 3, had a hand in the Spurs’ first 12 baskets, making seven on his own and assisting on the other five.
Kawhi Leonard and Jackson followed his three-point play by nailing back-to-back 3-pointers for a 34-16 advantage in the final 2 minutes of the first quarter.
“I told the coaches that I could go all night, I could go 48, and I didn’t think they would let me do it,” Durant said. “But they kept me in and I just tried to give my team a spark.”
The Thunder stormed back with an 11-2 run to start the third quarter and eventually pulled ahead after Durant’s 3-pointer from the top of the key made it 79-77 with 1:41 left in the period.
San Antonio missed nine of 11 3-pointers in the second half.
“The third quarter, it was like playing in mud,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “So, that was our downfall as much as anything.”