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Kevin Durant hits game-saving three as Warriors escape with comeback win

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Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) drives towards the basket and draws the foul by Miami Heat guard Josh Richardson (0) during the first quarter of the game on February 10, 2019 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. (Chris Victorio | Special to S.F. Examiner)

OAKLAND — With 44.1 seconds left, Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant pulled up to the top of the 3-point arc and calmly stepped into what was his sixth 3-pointer of the night against the Miami Heat. He hadn’t hit one yet.

When he had to drill a three, he did, tying the game at 118-118. Two DeMarcus Cousins free throws later, and Golden State had iced its 15th win — 120-118 — in  16 games.

“I wasn’t really thinking about nothing,” Durant said. “I just shot the ball.”

After the Warriors fell behind by as many as 19 early, Durant provided a steadying hand while fellow All-Stars Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson found their footing, and by scoring 11 of his game-high Durant 39 in the fourth quarter, Durant showed once again that, on the court at least, the greatest scorer of his generation isn’t fazed by the media storm surrounding him.

“I just thought Kevin carried us for much of that game,” said head coach Steve Kerr. “He was tremendous. Huge three down the stretch, several big shots in the fourth.”

After speculation about Durant’s future flared up following the trade of Kritsaps Porzingis by the New York Knicks, Durant did not speak with the media for eight days. On the ninth, he unleashed an invective against Ethan Sherwood Strauss of The Athletic. Durant placed blame for the speculation about his future not on his three straight one-year opt-out deals, or his own reticence to silence that speculation by saying publicly that he wouldn’t talk about free agency, but on the media.

In the two games since he’s spoken, he’s totaled 60 points, seven assists and 14 rebounds.

“He’s one of the best players in the world,” Kerr said. “Unbelievably talented, and he just plays. He loves the game. He loves to play and lose himself in the game. I thought he did a great job of that tonight.”

On Sunday, Durant was ruthlessly efficient inside the arc, hitting 15 of his 17 shots from mid-range, adding six rebounds and four assists.

“I think it’s needed every night,” Durant said of his mid-range shooting. “We don’t want to rely on threes all the time, so when the team is yinging, I try to yang a bit, to try to offset what we do out there a little bit, to give us some balance.”

Durant’s mid-range game was especially important against a Miami team that held Golden State to just 13-of-36 (36.1 percent) from beyond the arc.

“They do a good job of taking away the 3-point line, and Kevin, in the mid-range, is devastating,” Kerr said. “He’s the ultimate weapon against a defense like that. He was really dominant with that shot, and that was a big part of the game.”

Durant’s 16-of-24 shooting night helped the Warriors paper over slow starts from both Curry and Thompson. While Golden State got 29 points on 11-of-21 shooting from Thompson and 25 points on 9-of-18 shooting from Curry, neither of them had their shots going concurrently at any point, and certainly not in the first quarter, when they combined to go 2-for-7.

“We started off sluggish. They made shots,” Durant said. “They were excited to play against us, and we treated it like it was a Sunday walk in the park. This team is disciplined every time they step on the floor.”

Curry started the first quarter 1-for-4, meaning that, in the past four games, he’s just 1-for-14 in the opening stanza. Golden State got as far down as 26-7, and were out-rebounded 21-6 in the first quarter, giving the Heat 10 more shots.

“It was just one rebound after another,” Kerr said. “I think it was 19 to 3 on the glass to start the game, which was just a killer.”

Curry didn’t get going until going 4-of-5 from the field in the second quarter, nailing a 32-foot 3-pointer with 2:24 to go before halftime to tie things up at 51-51.

Durant went 6-of-7 out of halftime, as Golden State got out to a 12-2 run. A pair of Durant right elbow jumpers and then a Durant lay-up opened the lead up to 81-76 with three minutes to go in the third quarter, and another Curry triple made it 86-80 with a minute and a half to go in the period. 

Thompson, after shooting 4-of-11 in the first half and just 1-of-6 from 3-point range, got hot to start the fourth quarter. He hit 3-of-5 from 3-point range and going 5-of-8 from the field, including a pass by DeMarcus Cousins that bounced off an arm in the lane, before finding Thompson for a corner three to put Golden State up by six.

“Klay, I thought, carried us early in that fourth quarter; we really weren’t playing very well,” Kerr said. “He made a few big shots just to keep the momentum going.”

As Curry and Thompson found their groove and Durant kept steady, Golden State began to focus on the glass. After being out-rebounded 21-6 in the first quarter, the Warriors out-rebounded the Heat 24-20 in the second and third quarters. Even without Andre Iguodala (precautionary rest for tight left hamstring), the Warriors limited Miami to just 20-of-47 (42.6 percent) shooting in those periods.

With 5:50 to go, Durant was dinged for his 10th technical of the season, which seemed to give the Heat new life, as they tied things up at 107 with 4:10 to go. Durant then scored eight straight points, capped with another right-elbow jumper and then a jumpshot in the paint off of a spin move against Josh Richardson.

Richardson would get his, though, as he and the retiring Dwyane Wade — playing in his 12th and final game at Oracle Arena — sniffed out a Durant isolation play, with Wade blocking a would-be Durant shot and tipping it to Richardson. Richardson found Wade on the break, and he finished with a lay-up. Richardson then picked off an in-bounds destined for Curry to score on a breakaway, but Durant’s three — giving him 11 points in a row — tied things up.

“I thought that three was the biggest shot of the game,” Kerr said. “We had lost all momentum there, when they stole that in-bounds pass to score and make it a 3-point game. That was the shot of the game. He carried us offensively down the stretch.”

Durant’s tipped rebound off a Justice Winslow miss gave him the chance to win the game with another 3-pointer, but it was off-line. A foul on the rebound from that shot put Cousins at the line with 5.4 seconds left. He hit both, icing the game.

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