Scott Brooks said Thursday night was the most he’s used a lineup with Kevin Durant at power forward this season. Based on the results, he’s likely to increase how often he uses it the rest of the year.
Durant, who was held in check for his standards most of the night, scored eight of his 24 points in the final three and a half minutes while playing power forward in the Thunder’s 97-91 victory over the Bulls.
Durant, on the court with Russell Westbrook, Kevin Martin, Thabo Sefolosha and center Serge Ibaka, broke an 85-all tie with an impressive fadeaway jump shot over Luol Deng.
Rip Hamilton would answer with a shot clock-beating jumper on his own on the other end, but the scorer-turned-power forward Durant was just getting started.
The two-time reigning scoring champion added a floater off the right baseline and a second fadeaway off a screen that extended Thunder leads in the final two minutes. He then sealed the game with two free throw makes and 13 seconds left, putting the Thunder up 95-91.
Durant said before Thursday’s game that he is open to playing power forward in a smaller lineup, similar to what Miami’s LeBron James and New York’s Carmelo Anthony have done this season. He said he understands in an ever-changing NBA, that set positions are out, and versatility is in.
“I think I can handle the ball, I think I can pass and I can rebound and initiate the offense. But whatever coach wants me to do.”
Down the stretch, Scott Brooks needed his All-Star to score.
“I thought tonight he was more aggressive as the game went on, and there are some nights it’s gonna be like that,” Brooks said. “But 19 shots is where I like him to be up there, and also continue to play-make.”
Durant continued to show why he’s becoming a complete playmaker, as opposed to season’s past when he was known solely as a scorer. He finished with three steals and three blocks defensively, and while he only had one assist tonight he is still averaging a career-best 4.8 per game.
The Bulls countered Durant’s move to power forward by sticking with Deng, who had held Durant in check most of the night. That meant Joakim Noah guarding Ibaka and a mismatch with Taj Gibson on Sefolosha, who assisted Durant’s final basket.
“It is a tough matchup for a lot of teams and we definitely do use that throughout the game and some moment in a game that we throw it out there,” Brooks said before the game, “and Kevin likes it because teams have to make a tough decision.”
The decision was to stay small against Durant, whose aggressiveness late proved too much for Deng and the Bulls. Deng did limit Durant to 16 points on 8-of-15 shooting before the final stretch run, which proved Durant’s pregame prediction of having “his hands full” with Deng true.
But Brooks explained that the last three minutes are what makes Durant who he is.
“That’s what stars can do. They can have an average game and then the last 4-5 minutes, they can win the game, and I thought that’s what he did tonight,” Brooks said. “That’s what makes him a special player and it’s well-deserved. The guy is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around, he’s an amazing teammate, he’s a selfish guy and he’s only 24 and he’s only gonna get better.”