It was tough to tell Kevin Durant was returning from a six game absence Monday night in Utah.
The four-time scoring champion seemingly couldn’t miss, as he scored 27 points on 10-of-13 shooting from the field, helping the Thunder put the game away early.
His performance was so dominant, Oklahoma City didn’t need him or Russell Westbrook to play during the fourth quarter as the team secured a 111-89 victory.
A strained left hamstring suffered during the first half of during a game against the Wizards on Nov. 10 has kept Durant sidelined, but it didn’t take long for him to demonstrate that he is fully healthy.
Less than two minutes into the game, Durant opened his scoring barrage with a runner in the lane and from there, the Jazz defense not only had a difficult time slowing him down, but the rest of the team as well.
Oklahoma City converted 54.5 percent of its attempts, the highest percentage it has shot during the first 15 games of the year as it improved to 6-3 with Durant in the lineup.
Durant scored 11 points in the opening quarter as the Thunder finished the period with a three point advantage.
Against the third stingiest defense in the league, as the Jazz is allowing just 93.8 points per game, Oklahoma City put the game away by building a 17 point advantage at halftime as the team poured in 40 points during the second quarter.
As a team, the Thunder connected four times from 3-point range in the second quarter, with one coming from Durant, as the Jazz ran out of answers defensively.
Westbrook slashed to the rim with ease, earning six trips to the free throw line in the period, part of a 20 point, nine assist, seven rebound, one steal effort from the point guard.
The combination of Durant and Westbrook looked as potent as ever, as both players scored at least 20 points each for the seventh time in Durant’s ninth appearance of the season.
Westbrook’s scoring numbers came even though he attempted just 10 shots on the night, half his season average.
With Durant limited to just 27 games last season with a foot fracture, Westbrook went on to win his first career scoring crown.
They became the first set of teammates to lead the league in scoring during consecutive seasons since Hall-of-Famer Paul Arizin and Neil Johnston accomplished the feat for the Philadelphia Warriors in 1951-52 and 1952-53.
Johnston won the scoring crown in his sophomore season as Arizin missed the entire season as he enlisted in the Marine Corps for two years and served his country during the Korean War.
Through 15 games this season, Westbrook is averaging 28.1 points and Durant is pouring in 28 points a night. In league history, a pair of teammates have each averaged at least 25 points on 15 occasions.
Any hopes of a Jazz comeback were essentially erased early in the third quarter, as the duo connected an an alley-oop.
By the time the third quarter ended, Durant had already piled up 27 points, six rebounds, four steals, a block and an assist. With a 20 point advantage, Thunder coach Billy Donovan opted to rest Durant and Westbrook for the entire fourth quarter.
Durant logged 30 minutes in the contest, and aside from the altitude, which he claims left him a bit winded at times, showed no lingering effects from the injury.
His healthy return is essential for the Thunder’s success this season. In Durant’s absence, Westbrook elevated his game, averaging 32.7 points, 9.3 assists, 7.7 rebounds and 3.2 steals per game, but the team managed a 3-3 record.
The victory over Utah pushed their record to 9-6 on the season, as the team is one of just four in the Western Conference with a winning record, joining the Warriors, Spurs and Mavericks.
Durant is one of the most efficient scorers in league, as he is averaging 27.3 points per game for his career, tied with LeBron James for the fourth most in NBA history.
The 6-foot-10 forward is the only player averaging at least 25 points per game for his career while also being a member of the 50-40-90 club, meaning he shot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent at the foul line for an entire season.
As a team, Oklahoma City nearly accomplished the feat Monday night, as it shot 54.5 percent from the field, 40.7 percent from 3-point range and 88.9 percent at the foul line in Utah.
Durant is back and the Thunder are as dangerous as ever.