|New York @|
|85 - 86|
The rookie teenager had just shaken off another poor shooting night to score 21 points, including a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 59 seconds left, as the Seattle SuperSonics beat the sinking New York Knicks 86-85 on Saturday for their season-high third consecutive victory.
Yet as teammates dressed in the rare glow of what has been a dismal, potentially farewell Sonics season in Seattle, the 19-year-old who was starring at Texas this time last year turned to Earl Watson and asked, "UCLA won?"
Yes, just as Watson's former Bruins won again Saturday against Arizona, Durant and his young Sonics are finally learning to finish games.
The Sonics (12-35) succeeded in their fifth try for their first three-game winning streak this season, after victories over star-less San Antonio and Cleveland.
"We're playing 48 minutes now," said Chris Wilcox , who had 20 points and 10 rebounds. "Earlier in the season, we just kind of gave up in the last couple of minutes."
Seattle native Nate Robinson missed a 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds remaining that would have won it for the Knicks, who lost all five games on their trip through the West. They blew second-half leads in four of those defeats, including this one.
"It's tough," said Zach Randolph , whom Seattle double-teamed on the final possession to force the ball to the cold Robinson.
"I've never been on a team that's been in five games straight and not won one."
Welcome to New York (14-33), which sank to a season-low 19 games under .500.
Randolph had 24 points and Jamal Crawford scored 23, but was just 1-for-5 from the field in the final quarter. New York allowed the passive Sonics, who entered allowing the fourth-most points per game in the league (104.3), to tie their season low in points allowed.
Robinson missed all nine of his shots and finished with five points, two assists and three turnovers in 32 minutes.
"I let my team down," Robinson said. "If I had made just one 3, one bucket, we would have won the game."
Crawford, who also grew up in Seattle, left 40 tickets for friends and family for the game. He knew Robinson had almost as many people on hand for him.
"Basketball's a humbling game," Crawford said. "Nate had a pretty tough game. ... He deserved to make that one, he was playing hard.
"But tonight it just didn't go for him."
Or for New York. Again.
"We'll keep working at it," Knicks coach Isiah Thomas said.
Consecutive baskets inside by New York's David Lee and Randolph tied the game at 83 with just over a minute left. Then Durant stepped back after a pass from Wilcox and swished his 3-pointer with 59 seconds remaining. He punctuated the decisive shot with a fist pump that seemed more of relief than exultation.
After a 10-for-16 aberration while beating Cleveland on Thursday, Durant had returned to his recent cold shooting by missing 14 of 20 shots before the final, huge make.
"When I don't make my shots, I was taught to be aggressive, keep shooting," Durant said.
Crawford drove and made a floater in the lane over two Sonics with 44 seconds to cut Seattle's lead to 86-85. After a Seattle timeout, Durant lost the ball to Jared Jeffries in the open floor with 21 seconds to go.
Coach Thomas set up a final play for Randolph along the baseline. When Kurt Thomas and Watson rushed to him in the corner, Randolph found Robinson open on the wing. But the diminutive guard's 26-footer bounded harmlessly off the front rim.
So ended the latest late-game swoon for the Knicks.
They blew 15-point lead in the second half and lost to Portland in overtime Friday. They led the Lakers by nine with nine minutes left on Tuesday, then lost by 11. They led Golden State by four in the final quarter to begin the trip. Then the Warriors went on a 19-7 run and eventually won by two.
The latest lead, seven points early in the second half, evaporated with these gaffes: Renaldo Balkman failing to get the ball inbounds within five seconds for a turnover after his teammates left him stranded in the backcourt following a Sonics basket; Balkman getting fouled flagrantly by Nick Collison - then missing both free throws; and Crawford not realizing the shot clock had been adjusted down to 5 seconds after his airball and then forcing up a wild 3 that Durant blocked.
Notes: Even 2,800 miles away, the Knicks can't escape the razzing they are used to at Madison Square Garden. A New York fan seated about a dozen rows behind his team's bench chanted repeatedly "Fire Isiah!" to the coach. ... Sonics F Wally Szczerbiak was active but did not play for the second consecutive game with a sprained right ankle. Rookie G Jeff Green was out with a sprained left ankle. ... Knicks C Eddy Curry missed his second game in as many days with the flu. Quentin Richardson started and scored 11 points one day after also being out with the flu.