Kevin Durant Scores NBA Season-High 44 as Thunder Top Nuggets
Durant scored 44 points -- 21 of them coming in the third quarter -- to lead the Thunder to a 114-106 victory over the Denver Nuggets. The 44 points were an NBA season-high for Durant, who entered the game as the NBA's leading scorer at 27.5 points per game.
Durant's third-quarter foray swung the momentum of the game after the Thunder surprisingly struggled to keep pace with the Nuggets in the first half, despite Denver playing without star forward Carmelo Anthony. The Thunder's deficit reached double digits on multiple occasions.
But Durant and the Thunder came alive in the third, with the fourth-year forward at one point scoring 11 consecutive points for Oklahoma City in just under two-and-a-half minutes. His 19-foot jumper with 1:15 left in the quarter gave the Thunder the lead for good.
Anthony missed his second straight game for the Nuggets following the death of his sister. Michelle Anthony died of a pre-existing medical condition Tuesday in Baltimore. The Nuggets play again on Sunday, hosting the Philadelphia 76ers in Denver, but it's not yet clear when Anthony will return to the team.
With their leading scorer out, the Nuggets looked elsewhere for offensive punch, with Nene, normally known more for his defensive and rebounding prowess, stepping up early with 13 points in the first quarter. But he was relatively quiet on the offensive end the rest of the way, finishing with 21 points and 12 rebounds on the night.
Chauncey Billups led the Nuggets in scoring with 30, and Ty Lawson chipped in with 19 off the bench. But Anthony's absence was felt in the second half, as Denver was unable to answer Durant's momentum swing. With rumors widely circulating that Anthony will either be traded by the February deadline or opt out of his contract this summer, it was perhaps an unpleasant sign of what may lay ahead for the Nuggets.
Though this was the first Christmas Day game in Thunder history, it was not the first for Durant. As a rookie with the Seattle SuperSonics in 2007, Durant scored 23 points in an 89-79 loss at Portland.