The two key combatants — Kevin Durant and Brandon Roy — gave the Christmas Day crowd at the Rose Garden and the ESPN audience...
PORTLAND — The two key combatants — Kevin Durant and Brandon Roy — gave the Christmas Day crowd at the Rose Garden and the ESPN audience exactly what they wanted to see in the final minutes of Portland’s 89-79 victory on Tuesday.
When last season’s rookie of the year dueled this season’s favorite to win the award at the top of key, suddenly everything else faded into the background as they matched up against each other.
Durant more than held his own during the exchanges. In one sequence, he made Roy stumble with a deft crossover dribble before pulling up for a midrange jumper with 2:27 remaining that cut Seattle’s deficit to 86-75.
Meanwhile, Roy often ran Durant into screens before driving to the basket, drawing an extra defender and passing to an open teammate on the perimeter. Channing Frye, James Jones and Jarrett Jack were the beneficiaries who connected on several long-distance daggers that kept the Sonics at bay.
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With his shot failing him for much of the game, Roy often played the role of Santa Claus and distributed a team-high seven assists, which offset his 7-for-23 shooting from the field. He also had six rebounds and just one turnover in 29:57 minutes.
Durant scored more points (23), but he, too, was hardly efficient as he connected on 8 of 20 shots. Still, he managed six rebounds, four assists and blocked two shots.
“Early in the game, I was thinking, man, this is going to be the rookie of the year,” said Roy, the former Washington Husky and Garfield High School standout. “But late in the game when we were playing, I was looking at it like this is going to be a good rivalry for a few years here.
“He’s a first-year guy. I’m a second-year guy and we’re two hours away. This is going to be fun. The Sonics are going to grow up kind of like we had to grow up. I hope they are still in Seattle because they are going to be a good team pretty soon.”
For now, the bragging rights in the I-5 rivalry belong to the Trail Blazers, who extended their winning streak to 11 games, improved to 16-12 and cut their deficit to a half-game behind Denver in the Northwest Division.
The Sonics (8-20) are fourth in the division and off to their worst start in franchise history.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to them,” Durant said. “They’re playing well right now. They’re playing at a level that we want to get to. It’s not just one guy either. Brandon is an unbelievable player, but they had a lot of contributions.”
Portland won this game with defense — the Sonics tied a season low with 35 second-half points — and its work on the offensive glass.
Partly because LaMarcus Aldridge was 1 for 10 from the field and former Seattle Prep standout Martell Webster was 1 for 7, the Trail Blazers connected on just 36 of 93 shots (38.7 percent). None of that mattered, however, because Portland attempted 17 more shots thanks to 19 offensive rebounds and 13 Seattle turnovers. The Blazers outscored the Sonics 20-3 on second-chance points.
“What it should have been was an ugly 75-75 game with one possession,” coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “If we could have done a better job on the boards, I thought it could have come down to one possession.”
Instead, the game was decided in the third quarter when Portland had a 16-2 spurt over a five-minute span. The Sonics were down 50-48 and when it was over, they trailed 66-50 with 4:32 remaining. Roy scored 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting in the period.
Seattle cut its deficit to six early in the fourth quarter, but never got any closer after Roy connected with shooters on the wing.
Reserve forward Wally Szczerbiak had a hot hand early for Seattle, but he connected on just 2 of 8 shots in the final quarter and finished with 19 points. With the exception of Durant and Szczerbiak, no other Sonic scored in double figures. However, Nick Collison added 14 rebounds and Kurt Thomas had 10.
After the game, Roy and Durant embraced at midcourt and later they exchanged autographed sneakers.
“Around the middle of the third quarter I was like, are those your signature shoes already and he said, ‘nah,’ ” Roy said.
“… Then he asked me about mine and I said ‘let’s switch after the game’ and he was like, ‘yeah, cool.’ I think with him, there’s that understanding that we’re both competitive like that and we both want to win.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org