Durant delivers KO punch in first Finals battle
When Kevin Durant went to the free-throw line in the fourth quarter the crowd started chanting "M-V-P, M-V-P," a verbal jab at the reigning most valuable player, LeBron James.
At least for one night, the fans had it right.
Durant scored 36 points, including 17 in the final quarter, to lead the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 105-94 victory over the Miami Heat in the opening game of the best-of-seven NBA Finals today.
James scored 30 points but the Heat forward was outclassed down the stretch by the 6ft-9in (2.06m) Durant, the league's leading scorer for three straight seasons.
A frustrated Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said his club would "just try to keep our bodies in front of him as much as possible" before adding, "that's much easier said than done".
"He (Durant) broke free a few times to get in the paint for some easy ones and some free throws got him going," Spoelstra added. "He's tough enough when he's out behind the three-point line with that size, his length.
"He can get those looks off pretty much clean any time he wants to. But when he gets the easy ones, the basket starts to really grow. And I think he was in a great rhythm tonight."
The match-up between Durant and James has been eagerly awaited, with both players looking for their first title and along with it the mythical title of the NBA's top player.
Durant opened the game guarding his rival but James took on the Thunder's Kendrick Perkins.
"I'm not worried about the one-on-one match-up, it's just about the team," the soft-spoken Durant said. "He does such a great job of guarding everybody.
"We've got to figure out a way to try to get some easy points and just play hard on both ends. I can't worry about which guy is guarding me, I've just got to play my game."
Durant and Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook did just that in the second half, combining to outscore the entire Heat roster 41-40.
"Those two guys are All-Stars for a reason," said James, a three-time MVP. "You can't stop them, you just try to limit them. And Russ made some big plays late.
"KD (Durant) got a couple looks that we don't like. He had two transition threes that we gave up where he had nobody on him. And he had a couple jumpers that we didn't like, either, with nobody on him.
"This was the feel-out game. We come out with a lot of energy, tried to steal Game One.
"Now we get an opportunity to go to the chalkboard, go to the film and have a better game plan in Game Two since we've already seen what they're capable of doing."
Game Two is in Oklahoma City on Friday (NZ time) before the series shifts to Miami for the next two contests.