OKLAHOMA CITY Maybe there's a lesson to be learned from what happened Tuesday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Don't let Kevin Durant get mad.
Perhaps it was mere coincidence that after he was whistled for a technical foul he didn't think he deserved, Durant went off for 11 of his 46 points in the final 3:23 of Oklahoma City's 105-97 victory over the Trail Blazers.
More likely, Durant got fired up and used the slight for motivation as the Thunder (32-10) broke a tie with Portland (31-11) for the lead in the NBA's Northwest Division.
"That's what typically happens with technical fouls," Portland's Wesley Matthews said.
On this night, Matthews added, "the crowd got into it and it changed the complexion of the game. We still hung in there. We had a chance to continue to push the lead, but K.D. kind of got it going."
Kind of? Sure, and Andre the Giant was kind of large.
Durant exceeded 30 points for a career-high eighth straight game, averaging 39.3 points over that span. The 6-10 small forward almost singlehandedly willed the Thunder to victory on a night when, minus point guard Russell Westbrook as he rehabs after knee surgery, there was precious little help at the offensive end.
"He's the best player in the world right now," said Portland's Nicolas Batum, faced with the challenge of attempting to guard Durant. "You have two guys on him, he's going to make the shot, anyway. He's the MVP. I've never seen anything like that."
Durant's numbers were startling -- 17 for 25 from the field, 6 for 7 from 3-point range and 6 for 7 from the free-throw line to go with five rebounds and four assists in 38 minutes.
"An MVP performance," was Portland coach Terry Stott's assessment. "To score 46 points on just 25 shots, 6-for 7 on 3's he made shots when they mattered, took his time, didn't force it, and when it was there, made some great shots. It was remarkable."
Unlike in Monday's 126-113 loss at Houston, the Blazers played well at both ends Tuesday night on their final stop on this rugged four-game, five-day trip. They jumped in front 7-0 and 11-2, extended the lead to 11 points in the second quarter, were ahead through almost all of the first half and took a 52-51 advantage into intermission.
Swoons in the final three minutes of the third and fourth quarters proved fatal. OKC, trailing 73-64 with three minutes left in the third, used a 13-2 run to take a 77-75 lead into the final period, Durant bombing in a 3-pointer with 2.3 seconds left.
Portland gathered itself and maintained a slim lead until Durant got mad over a pair of calls. First, he thought he was fouled when he turned the ball over with about four minutes left. On OKC's next possession, he was called for a charge, sending him into a tizzy. On an ensuing timeout, he slammed a fist into the scorer's table, drawing a technical foul with 3:45 left.
(By my estimation, the officials got the call right both times. Durant didn't agree.)
And in the final three minutes, he took it out on the Blazers, who led 95-90 after LaMarcus Aldridge knocked down a pair of gift shots with 3:45 left.
They were the last points Portland were to score until Damian Lillard's meaningless layup with 20 seconds left.
By that time, Durant had led the Thunder on a 15-0 run for a 105-95 lead, knocking down three 3's -- two of them with Batum up in his shorts.
"K.D. was out there, shooting over Nic like the basket's the ocean," Matthews said. "He's been on such a roll. Can't do much about that."
Batum wasn't sure he'd be able to play after reinjuring the middle finger on his left hand he broke two weeks ago Monday against the Rockets. The finger was swollen and sore, but Batum knew his presence would be needed, at least defensively.
"It was on me, if I wanted to sit out," said Batum, who had three points on 1-for-4 shooting along with five rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks in 35 minutes. "I was like, 'No.' But I couldn't contribute anything on offense. I couldn't catch the ball. I couldn't even run the pick-and-roll. I usually get 10 a game."
Stotts appreciated Batum's willingness to give it a go.
"Nic gutted it out," the second-year Blazer coach said. "He was in obvious pain. He didn't want to use his left hand. He was grimacing when it was getting hit. It was a team play, for him to play with that.
"He worked hard on Durant. I know the guy got 46, but Nic made him work for it."
Prior to Lillard's game-ending layup, the Blazers were 1 for 7 with two turnovers on their final eight possessions. Five of the missed shots came from Aldridge, who finished with 29 points (on 12-for-26 shooting) and 16 rebounds but appeared weary from the long trip at the end.
"It was disappointing to lose the game," Stotts said. "But on the road against Oklahoma City, if you can put yourself in position to win late in the fourth quarter, that's what you want. It was a very good game overall by both teams. When it came down to it, they made the plays they needed to."
Heading into the trip, a 2-2 record wouldn't have sounded too bad. After starting with victories at San Antonio and Dallas, though, the Blazers wanted more.
"We're pissed," said Matthews who scored 21 points with four rebounds and four assists. "We're not happy. Last year,we'd have been happy coming off a road trip .500. We're not that team anymore.
"We didn't come out with the right energy against Houston. (The Rockets) were ready for us. Tonight, we came out with the right mentality early in this game, but KD had a hell of a fourth quarter. It's bitter."
Said Stotts: "You're pleased to get the two wins. But coming off the heels of this one, where you're in position to win it -- you'd like to get that last one."
Some of the Blazers were looking at the results more philosophically.
"It was a tough trip, man," said guard Mo Williams, who came off the bench to hit his first five shots on a 13-point, nine-assist night. "Going 2-2, we can live with that. We'd love to be greedy about it, but 2-2 is not such a bad thing."
"We didn't go 0 for 4," said Lillard, who finished with only 14 points on 6-for-15 shooting to go with four assists but no turnovers. "We would have liked to play a better game (against Houston), but we have to take what we can from it and move on."
Had the Blazers won, they'd be in first place in the Northwest Division, a game back of San Antonio in the Western Conference playoff picture.
"That shows how big the game was," Lillard said. "But we came here just wanting to win the game, regardless of what it meant."
There were other implications.
Portland won the first two meetings between the teams this season. They'll play again at the Moda Center on Feb. 11, with OKC having a chance to halve the season series. That could matter in determination of seeding for the postseason.
Also, the team with the best record in the Western Conference through Feb. 2 will have its coach handle the West team in the All-Star Game on Feb. 16 -- unless it's the Spurs off the no-repeat rule.
It's almost certainly going to be either Portland or OKC, the latter coached by Scotty Brooks.
Brooks has a leg up now on what would be a nice honor for Stotts and his coaching staff, who would surely enjoy the experience of All-Star Weekend in New Orleans.
In the grand scheme of things, though, that doesn't matter as much as a lost opportunity for a important road victory.
It was just the Blazers' luck they they were around on a night when Kevin Durant lost his cool, and somebody had to pay.