Thunder star Kevin Durant wins first NBA MVP award
AP Sports Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY — Kevin Durant has plenty of scoring titles. Now, he finally has an MVP trophy to go with them.
The Oklahoma City Thunder star won the NBA’s top individual honor Tuesday, grabbing 119 first-place votes. Miami’s LeBron James, who had won the last two MVP awards and four of the previous five, finished second with six first-place votes and Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers was third.
Durant, a 6-foot-9 forward, won his fourth scoring crown in five years this season by averaging 32 points per game. He helped the Thunder finish the regular season with a 59-23 record, second-best in the league, despite playing much of the season without three-time All-Star Russell Westbrook by his side because of a nagging knee injury.
“He’s been the most consistent guy all season long,” Westbrook said at the end of the regular season. “He’s done a great job of leading us to where we are now. He’s basically put himself in front of everybody else in the league and shown that he’s the best player in the world.”
James agreed, saying Monday: “Much respect to him and he deserves it. He had a big-time MVP season.”
Durant’s run of 41 consecutive games this season with at least 25 points was the third-longest streak in NBA history. In all, he scored at least 40 points 14 times. He also averaged 7.4 rebounds and a career-high 5.5 assists while shooting 50 percent from the field.
“He does everything,” New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. “You just can’t recall a guy that long who can do what he does every single night. Shooting from 30 feet on the floor with confidence and driving to the basket and dunking on guys, and then go post up, and on top of it, a great teammate and good kid.”
Durant moved to the front of the pack while Westbrook was out following his most recent knee surgery. Durant averaged 35 points and 6.3 assists during that stretch as the Thunder went 20-7 and remained among the league’s elite.
Westbrook’s injury gave Durant an opportunity to use his improving skills as a playmaker.
“I’ve always been a player that was excited for my teammates’ success,” Durant said. “Not just mine, but my teammates’ as well. Wanting to see them do well translates to my game, which is wanting to pass the ball and seeing my teammates reap the benefits.”
Teammates and opponents say Durant became a more complete player this season. They praised him for improving his court vision, consistently making the extra pass and moving more efficiently without the ball.
“What he does is tough to do,” teammate Nick Collison said. “I think we take it for granted. To be able to stay on for long periods of time — have to cut hard, catch the ball in the right spot and defend on the other end — is tough to do. To be able to show that shows that he has an edge to him. He doesn’t take a night off.”
Durant’s slight build could be considered one of his few weaknesses, but he has especially improved in dealing with opponents who try to push him around.
“People have been trying to do that since he’s been in the league, and obviously, he’s just gotten better every season, so I don’t really think that matters with him,” Westbrook said. “He just takes on the challenge. When people try to be physical, he takes on the challenge and becomes more aggressive.”
Though Durant’s consistency stood out this season, he had several exceptional games. He scored 48 points on Jan. 4 at Minnesota, then scored 48 again two games later at Utah. He scored a career-high 54 points in a home win against Golden State on Jan. 17 and two games later scored 46 at home in a win against Portland. Two games after that, he had a triple-double — 32 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists — in a win at Philadelphia, and he followed that with 41 points in a win over Atlanta. He scored 51 points at Toronto on March 21 in a staggering 53 minutes and hit the game-winning 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds left in double overtime.
He capped it off in the season finale by scoring 21 of his 42 points in the fourth quarter against Detroit and winning the game with a dunk with 16.5 seconds left. The Thunder overcame a 10-point deficit in the quarter to clinch the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP