x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Classy Durant leaves Hawks thunderstruck

In-form forward helps Oklahoma pull away from Atlanta inside game's last five minutes forcing rival coach to concede he is "playing like an MVP candidate".

Kevin Durant, right, drives around the Hawks guard Joe Johnson.
Kevin Durant, right, drives around the Hawks guard Joe Johnson.

Kevin Durant continued to show the form that has propelled him into this season's NBA All-Star game with 33 points and 11 rebounds in Oklahoma City Thunder's 106-99 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday. The Thunder were holding on to a two-point advantage with less than five minutes remaining before the 21-year-old forward scored the next four points to help the home team pull away for a third consecutive win.

Durant, enjoying a breakthrough campaign in his third NBA season, led his side to victory despite scoring four points fewer than the Hawks' All-Star guard Joe Johnson as Atlanta suffered a third defeat in four games. "I look at him now and he's playing like an MVP candidate right now in this league," said the Hawks' coach, Mike Woodson. "We did a good job of getting baskets and getting stops when we needed to," Durant said. "We have to have that focus in the fourth where we execute on both ends."

"We knew that they're a good team and they're a team that's fighting for home-court advantage even in the play-offs, and they're going to make runs but we've just got to come back and play our game," added Durant, who hurt his right elbow in the first quarter. "We can't let them put us back on our heels and kind of get stagnant and not aggressive on the offensive end. We've just got to continue to play."

Elsewhere in the NBA, LeBron James tied a career high with 15 assists to help the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Memphis Grizzlies 105-89 for their ninth consecutive victory. "He sees things other players don't see," said the Grizzlies coach, Lionel Hollins. "He attacks the basket and throws it out for a three. He attacks the basket, then throws it for a lay-up. He gets the ball on one side, he's not looking, but he sees the guy and whips it all the way across the court for another three-pointer.

"He's just a great player. I don't know much more that you can say about him." James also had 22 points while Shaquille O'Neal scored 13 and collected as many rebounds for the Cavs. "He looks great," said James of O'Neal. "He's motivated and just playing with a little bounce in his step that he didn't have at the start [of the season]. "But he had a different mindset than we all thought. "We all thought he was playing slow, he was just saving himself for the second half of the season."

Danny Granger scored 23 points as the Indiana Pacers ended the Toronto Raptors' five-game winning streak and snapped a three-game losing run of their own with a 130-115 victory. It was the Pacers' biggest points tally of the season. * With agencies