source: JEFF LATZKE | AP Sports Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)—With his All-Star point guard on the bench with three early fouls, two-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant took it upon himself to keep the Oklahoma City Thunder rolling.
After he did, even the mighty Miami Heat never could recover.
Durant had 28 points, nine rebounds and tied his season-high with eight assists, Kendrick Perkins added a season-best 16 points and the Thunder opened a difficult stretch in their schedule by beating Miami 103-87 on Sunday night.
The two title contenders opened the day tied for the second-best record in the NBA, three games behind the Chicago Bulls in the race for the top overall seed in the playoffs.
West-leading Oklahoma City edged ahead into second, with the rematch 10 days away in Miami.
“I think it was a good test for us,” said Perkins, who has set new season scoring highs in two straight games.
“We came out and did what we needed to do and protected home court. … Now, we’ve got to move on. I don’t think we should ride a rollercoaster over this one win.”
Oklahoma City had a season-high 13 steals and forced Miami into 21 turnovers that led to 28 Thunder points. Miami’s big three—LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh—combined for 15 of the giveaways.
“We will own this one,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They jumped us. Everybody saw it. They had us on our heels and they were the aggressors.”
Wade led Miami with 22 points but also committed a season-worst six turnovers. Bosh had 18 points and five turnovers, and James ended up with 17 points, seven assists and four turnovers.
“Some of it was attack turnovers and some of it was careless turnovers,” James said. “We started the game with a turnover. From there on, we turned the ball over.”
Oklahoma City took the lead for good in the first 4 minutes of the second quarter, then built on it after All-Star Russell Westbrook picked up his third foul with 7 1/2 minutes left before halftime.
Durant played a bigger role in orchestrating the offense, hitting a layup in transition and a foul line jumper but also setting up Perkins’ two-handed slam and James Harden’s fast-break layup during a 12-2 burst for the Thunder. Harden’s layup bumped the lead up to 55-42 with 2:01 to go before halftime.
“KD was just phenomenal. I think he took the matchup well with LeBron, he did his job and he almost had a triple-double tonight,” Perkins said. “That’s what we need out of him every night.”
The Heat made a brief 8-0 comeback spurt, fueled by back-to-back turnovers by Harden, and pulled to 91-83 after Shane Battier’s second straight 3-pointer with 7:14 remaining.
Perkins put an end to that rally by getting open for two-handed slams on consecutive possessions, and Durant nailed a 3 with 3:20 remaining to push Oklahoma City’s lead back out to 100-85. Spoelstra then pulled James, Wade and Bosh with 96 seconds left facing a 16-point deficit.
“They beat us in all facets of the game—from the beginning to the end,” James said.
Serge Ibaka and Harden each scored 19 for Oklahoma City and Westbrook finished with 13 points, one game after going for a career-high 45 in a double-overtime win against Minnesota on Friday night.
The Thunder will travel to face the Los Angeles Lakers and host Chicago next Sunday in their tough 11-day stretch.
Oklahoma City shot 67 percent in the first half and never let Miami—the league’s second-best defense, allowing opponents to shoot only 38 percent— piece together enough stops to mount a rally.
Ibaka had a two-handed slam, Durant followed with a right-handed jam off of Westbrook’s alley-oop and the lead stretched to 68-53 following Ibaka’s putback with 7:04 left in the third quarter.
Wade hit a pair of 3-pointers but couldn’t spark a Heat comeback. Even when he finished the third quarter by hitting a buzzer-beater from four steps beyond midcourt, it didn’t give Miami any momentum.
Wade sat out the first three minutes of the final period, then didn’t attempt a shot after checking back in.
“I’d rather not comment on that,” he said. When asked whether he wanted the ball in his hands, he said, “I don’t want to talk about the offense.”
Before the game, Spoelstra called Miami’s stretch of three straight road games—and five of six—an opportunity to take a step forward.
“We’ve been disappointed in our play on the road in general since the All-Star break,” Spoelstra said.
Instead, the Heat continued a rough patch with five losses in their last seven road games. During a 14-game home winning streak spanning the past two months, Miami is only 10-7 on the road.
“Our most important thing right now is to find a next level of basketball. We don’t necessarily even know if we have another level or two but we want to keep on pushing to get to that point and find a better consistency than we’ve had the last three weeks,” Spoelstra said beforehand.
“When we’re playing on the top of our game, we feel we can win anywhere. But we’re not quite there yet.”