1. How Good Are Thunder? They Might Top This
Here's how good:
• So good that Durant set a career high with 51 points, and needed only 28 shots to do it. Included in the onslaught were five points in the final 30 seconds of regulation to send the game to an extra session, capped by a drive for a game-tying dunk with 4.4 seconds to go.
• So good that Westbrook had 40 points of his own as the secondary option.
• So good that it reduced a triple-double by teammate Serge Ibaka to a mere footnote. It was the first time in NBA history that a team had a 50-point game, a 40-point game and a triple-double from three different players. Amazingly, Ibaka didn't get his triple-double by assisting the scorers, but by swatting away 11 Denver shots to go with 15 points and 14 boards.
• So good that they had two points from their teammates in the final 12:40 of basketball, and yet went from down seven to winning by six by scoring 34 of the final 36 Thunder points.
• And yes, so good that it bumped Jeremy What's-His-Name from the front page.
The two stars' scoring exploits were enough to overcome a litany of sins, as a short-handed Denver team relentlessly ran the ball down their throats and finished with a whopping 72 points in the paint.
Denver withstood the absence of starting forwards Nene Hilario and Danilo Gallinari and backup guard Rudy Fernandez by engaging in a game one rarely sees employed against the Thunder -- ramping up the tempo even beyond Oklahoma City's preferred level.
The Thunder play the league's fourth-fastest pace, but the Nuggets are No. 1 in that category and showed why Sunday. On the sideline, Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks spent much of the second quarter imploring his team to run back on defense as the Nuggets kept pushing the ball, even on makes -- at one point earning two consecutive layups after Thunder baskets.
The result was an epic battle -- by regular-season standards, at least, and certainly by the standards of this regular season. The scoring totals of Durant and Westbrook were just the cherry on top -- this was a thrilling contest throughout, featuring huge runs (20-0 for the Thunder, 29-7 for Denver) and few miscues for a game played such at breathtaking speed. Putting it in perhaps the league's best game environment only made it better.
Both Durant and Westbrook were in rare form, with each getting nothing but net on virtually ever jumper. The book on Westbrook is to give him the jumper and take away the drive; if he makes 11 jump shots, as he did Sunday, I'm not sure how to defend that. Moreover, he combined his usual fury with composed decision-making -- nine dimes and only two turnovers -- and amazingly, did it after spraining his ankle Friday against Golden State.
Durant, meanwhile, actually did most of his damage around the basket with his increasingly confident off-the-dribble game. But he also made his first five 3-point tries before a miss late in overtime, including a late-clock hoist in the first quarter that started him rolling.
Yet that shouldn't overshadow Ibaka, who erased countless defensive mistakes with 11 blocks, most of the basket-saving, at-the-rim variety. Top honors goes to a flying tap-away of a Corey Brewer drive early in the fourth quarter -- on yet another after-made-basket transition by the Nuggets -- that snuffed a sure layup and got the Oklahoma City crowd revved up another notch. But some prefer block No. 10 ... which came with a pronounced, Mutombo-esque finger-wag as he strutted down the court.
By the end, Ibaka was cleaning up so thoroughly that by overtime the coaches told Durant to crowd Denver's Arron Afflalo (whose season-high 27 points could not have been relegated any further into the background) and basically force him to have a path to the basket and Ibaka.
Add it all up and it was another notch in the belt of memories that the Durant-Westbrook-Ibaka-Harden quartet is building up in this city, and it's scary to ponder that they're barely getting started -- none is older than 23.
Nights like this leave you wondering what they might do to top it and thinking that at some point, they probably will.
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
MVP: The turnovers are a red herring. At least for now, Lin is an offensive savant, and the additional defensive attention he's getting isn't slowing him down. Lin finished with an astonishing 28 points, 14 assists and 5 steals (and, of course, 7 turnovers) in 45 minutes.
Defining moment: After a solid Dallas defensive stand, Lin snapped off a late-clock 3-ball over Dirk Nowitzki to give the Knicks a 98-93 lead with 2:57 to go in the fourth quarter. Star meet star.
significant: The Lin-era Knicks passed their biggest test to date with the help of new addition J.R. Smith (15 points). The loss to the Hornets may prove to be an anomaly.
Recap | Box score
MVP: So many options here. Russell Westbrook goes for 40, Serge Ibaka with a trip
it's Kevin Durant, are you insane? The man scored 51 points on 28 shots! Who else would it be? Big shot after big shot, simply unstoppable. This was a league MVP performance, not just a game MVP performance.
Defining moment: Westbrook's 3-pointer bounces straight up in the air and down, as he celebrates with dropping the three-shooters into the holsters. Not a great 3-point shooter, hitting a huge shot using more iron than your cleaners. That's what kind of a night it was for Denver.
the game of the year. Denver was relentless and got big performances from everyone, even with so many injuries. OKC basically just had two guys step up, but they stepped up above and beyond and it made for an absolute slobberknocker. Last team swinging won the game. Could be an amazing playoff series in a few months.
Recap | Box score
electric: US Airways Center rocked like it did when the Suns were the league's most exciting team, and the team reciprocated with an effort reminiscent of their glory days.
MVP: Marcin Gortat was the best big man in a game featuring Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, as the Polish Hammer dominated on his way to 21 points and 15 boards.
LVP: The Lakers' supporting cast. Kobe, Gasol and Bynum received no help once again as their "big three" combined for 65 of Los Angeles' 90 points and no other Laker scored more than eight.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Kyle Lowry was unconscious, hitting seven 3-pointers en route to 32 points. He also found time to dish out nine assists.
confusing: Patrick Patterson started in place of usual Houston starting center Samuel Dalembert. Was Dalembert injured? No. He came in off the bench just a few minutes into each half.
X factor: Rockets rookie Greg Smith, recalled on Sunday from the D-League, and making his NBA debut, had four blocks by the end of the third quarter. After each, the crowd erupted.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Rodney Stuckey, who set the tone for the Pistons' aggressive offense (12-of-15 on free throws) and defense (four steals while guarding Ray Allen and Paul Pierce).
Defining moment: Rajon Rondo throwing the ball at a referee and getting ejected in the third quarter. It didn't define the game, which the Pistons led comfortably at the time, but it will definitely define Rondo's bank account balance.
Will Bynum. Bynum, who's not part of Lawrence Frank's regular rotation, played strong on-ball defense -- an unusual event for him -- and scored seven points in his 13 minutes off the bench.
Recap | Box score
MVP: David West. He made six of his first seven shots, played excellent defense (three first-half blocks) and made some great passes while helping the Pacers run away with this one.
LVP: D.J. Augustin did nothing good tonight, missing 9 of his 12 shots while recording a hard-to-believe -44 during his 32 minutes on the floor.
X factor: Tyler Hansbrough. He has struggled for weeks now but was his active self Sunday night and hyper-efficient, scoring 13 points on just four shots while getting to the line for 10 FTAs.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Ersan Ilyasova. His "29 points, 25 rebounds" really says it all. Despite fouling out in the fourth quarter, Ilyasova grabbed more rebounds than all five Nets starters -- combined. Played stalwart defense, hit outside shots and knocked down his free throws.
That was ugly: The teams combined to shoot 36 percent from the field and 29 percent from deep. Refs called 46 fouls. Only three players shot more than 50 percent for the game. DeShawn Stevenson got hit with a flagrant foul. Johan Petro tried shooting off the dribble. This was a rough one.
X-factor: Offensive glass. The Bucks grabbed 21 offensive boards, including a game-clincher by Brandon Jennings with 20 seconds left.
Mr. Smith Goes To New York
3. Wednesday's Best
Kevin Durant, Thunder: His career-best 51 points was the top performance in the NBA this season. He drove for a dunk to tie the game with 4.4 seconds left in regulation. Sealed the performance with a kiss for his mom courtside.
4. Wednesday's Worst
Charlotte Bobcats' season of infamy: If the Bobcats' were a boxer, they'd be the type of fighter who gets hit and "stays hit." Charlotte got hit early, fell behind 16-2 to start the game en route to a 35-point loss to the Pacers.
5. Tweet Of The Night
6. Quote Of The Night
"I was talking to them before the game and they were saying they had an answer for Lin. I guess they were dead wrong on their scouting report."
-- Knicks center Tyson Chandler, who played for the Mavs last season, on talking to his former team about covering Jeremy Lin.
7. NBA Video Channel
8. Heating Up In Miami
MVP: LeBron James had 25 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists to barely edge the sizzling Dwyane Wade, who had 27 points on 13-of-23 shooting, for the honor. Wade has scored 20 or more points in 10 straight games and the Heat have won nine of them.
That was ... politically correct: President Bill Clinton attended the game and sat next to Heat owner Micky Arison courtside. During the third quarter he was presented a Heat jersey, No. 42, with his name on it.
LVP: Hedo Turkoglu scored just one point and had no rebounds in 25 minutes, part of an overall weak Magic offensive effort.
9. Irving Plays The Hero
Defining Moment: Leading by one in the closing seconds, Tyreke Evans reached in and fouled rookie Kyrie Irving with four-tenths of a second remaining. Irving hit both free throws, giving the Cavs a 93-92 victory.
MVP: Isaiah Thomas, the last pick in the 2011 NBA draft, got his second start of his young career on Sunday night. Opposite him? Kyrie Irving, the first pick in the 2011 NBA draft. Thomas lit up Irving, barely missing a triple-double while finishing with 23 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds.
incredible: With 2.9 seconds remaining in the fourth, second-year big man Cousins rolled to the rim, hit the lay-in and gave the Kings a one-point lead on the road.
10. Rubio's Ruby
Defining Moment: When Kevin Love spotted up to take a 16-footer with 9:44 left on Sunday night, he was just 2-for-15 from the floor and hadn't hit a field goal since the first period. But after his humble beginning, he closed the game 5-for-8 for 12 points, including the winning foul shots.
MVP: While Kevin Love was the story, Ricky Rubio was just stupendous -- setting a career high in scoring with 22 to go along six boards, five dimes, and (approximately) 15 "wowzers" moments. And from the We Can Build on This department: If the Rickster can nudge the arrow from "awful shooter" to "mediocre shooter," CP3's going to have to start watching his Best Point Guard Alive belt.
really fun: Good luck finding two teams who are more purely pleasurable to watch than the Sixers and Wolves. While Sunday's wasn't a particularly clean game -- the 18 total turnovers understate the choppiness -- the multiple lead changes and late heroics from Kevin Love ensured that this one lived up to billing.