Oklahoma City Thunder v Boston Celtics

Kevin Durant, even out injured, sparks Oklahoma City Thunder to sixth straight win

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BOSTON – Kevin Durant rose from his seat on the bench, tugging up the slack on his warm-up pants as he inched forward at nearly action that could lead to an Oklahoma City Thunder basket.

As the Thunder connected on shot after shot, Durant – out with a sore right shoulder that will be re-evaluated Saturday – repeatedly uncoiled to celebrate. While he clapped and hollered, a gaggle of supportive benchmates filed in behind him.

At times, it was if he were trying to recreate this for his active teammates:

In the second half, as the Thunder shot on the opposite end of the court from their bench, Durant relaxed a bit in his seat – he’s still  no Kent Bazemore – but Oklahoma City kept coming anyway in a 101-83 win over the Boston Celtics on Friday.

Serge Ibaka had 21 points and seven rebounds, but Jeremy Lamb was the real bright spot in Oklahoma City’s first-ever game without Durant and Russell Westbrook. Second to his career-high 22, Lamb scored 19 points, 15 of them on 7-of-11 shooting in the first half – when Durant was closest.

“He’s one of the best players in the game, best scorer in the game – for him to cheer for us, it’s huge,” Lamb said. “You always, when you’re on the road, you’ve got to lean on your bench sometimes to get energy. And he definitely was on the bench giving energy.”

As much as Durant’s energy, the Thunder needed stiffer defense, and they had it in the third quarter. Oklahoma City’s defensive rating was 52.8 in that period as it outscored the Celtics 27-13.

“We gave a good effort and played for one another,” said Thabo Sefolosha, who shot 6-for-6. “But that’s a staple of our team. It’s no different if KD and Russ are there or not.”

For many teams riding a five-game win streak that most recently including thrilling wins over the powerful Spurs and Trail Blazers, a potential letdown would seem concerning.

“I’ve never had that problem with our guys,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.

Even sidelined, Durant proved that.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: