Kevin Durant scored 24 points and led a fourth- quarter surge that propelled the Oklahoma City Thunder to a hard-earned 97-91 win over the Chicago Bulls at the United Center.
Held largely in check by Chicago's notoriously tough defense for most of the night, the NBA's three-time defending scoring champion caught fire down the stretch. Durant poured in 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting over the final 6:35 as the Thunder overcame a six-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter to record its second consecutive triumph. Six of his points occurred in the last minute of play.
"It was a tough 42 minutes we had and coach got us in a huddle and said these last six minutes we needed to do better," said Durant. "I thought we responded well to that, made our passes and found the shots."
Serge Ibaka added 21 points and nine rebounds and Russell Westbrook tallied 16 points and 12 assists for an Oklahoma City squad that outscored the Bulls by a 31-19 margin in the fourth quarter.
Luol Deng netted a game-high 27 points and Richard Hamilton finished with 20 for Chicago, but the Bulls shot 26.9 percent from the field over the final 12 minutes en route to their second loss in three tests on a current five-game homestand.
"We just fell apart that last quarter," said Deng. "We didn't do a good job getting stops and we didn't play good defense, especially against Durant."
A matchup between two of the league's top teams from last season lived up to its advance billing, with neither club holding more than an eight-point lead at any point and the game tied at 87-87 with under three minutes to go.
Westbrook struggled with his shot throughout the evening, hitting just 7-of-22 field goal attempts for the contest, but blew past the defense for a layup in the paint with 2:05 left to put the Thunder ahead.
The score would remain 89-87 until Durant nailed a clutch baseline jumper with 46.8 seconds on the clock, then scored again following a Chicago basket to maintain Oklahoma City's four-point cushion with 19.5 ticks remaining.
A Joakim Noah dunk would get the Bulls to within two, but Durant and Kevin Martin each sank two key free throws in the waning seconds to seal the victory.
Oklahoma City entered the fourth quarter trailing by a 72-66 score, but opened the period on a 9-1 run to forge ahead. Eric Maynor put up the Thunder's first five points of the spurt, which was capped by a hook by fellow reserve Nick Collison that gave the visitors a 75-73 edge with 8:36 left.
Chicago would move back in front just over a minute later, when a Noah putback made the score 78-77 in favor of the Bulls, but the Thunder responded with six straight points and grabbed an 83-78 advantage when Westbrook found Thabo Sefolosha for an easy layup with 6:11 to go.
Deng hit for a three-point play on the other end, however, which ignited an 7-2 flurry that brought the Bulls back even when Hamilton made a pair of foul shots with 4:16 left to play.
Oklahoma City carried a slim 48-47 lead into halftime after closing out the second quarter on a 6-0 run. Ibaka, who put up 15 points prior to the break, began the short spurt by hitting a pair of free throws, while Durant capped it by driving the lane and scoring with 13.3 seconds left to put the Thunder ahead.
The Thunder were up 55-50 early in the third quarter, but Chicago would erupt for 11 unanswered points to seize the momentum. A second-chance basket from Kirk Hinrich during the surge put the Bulls ahead, and Deng followed with a triple of his own before Hinrich buried a 16-footer for a 61-55 lead midway through the stanza.
Chicago would maintain a six-point margin entering the final quarter.
Noah finished with 13 rebounds for Chicago, with Carlos Boozer pulling down 11 boards in a losing cause ... With Martin's 15 points leading the way, the Thunder outproduced the Bulls 29-8 in bench scoring ... Oklahoma City also ended with a 46-34 advantage in points in the paint and improved to 3-0 this season when coming out ahead in that category ... The Thunder have now prevailed in three of the last four meetings in this series, as well as three of their last four trips to the United Center.