PORTLAND, Ore. — When Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups looked across the court Thursday night, he could see a dysfunctional Nets team, but a matchup nightmare in Kevin Durant.
But when Durant missed an off-balance fadeaway with a fraction of a second left, the Nets star’s teammates had his back — Royce O’Neale had the game-winning tip-in for a 109-107 victory at Moda Center.
The Nets rebounded from their desultory 153-121 loss two nights earlier in Sacramento, which was the worst defensive performance in team history. And they bounced back with arguably their most important win of the season, a gut-check triumph over the Western Conference leaders.
Durant scored a game-high 35 points, and O’Neale had a triple-double with 11 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds — none more important than his final offensive rebound and putback of Durant’s miss with 0.7 seconds left.
Yuta Watanabe had 20 points and seven rebounds, while Ben Simmons had his best effort of the season with 15 points, a dozen boards and seven assists.
“KD is a nightmare, man,” Billups said beforehand. “He’s a matchup nightmare. He’s one of those guys that, when he gets to a spot and misses a shot, it wasn’t your defense that made that happen. He just missed a shot. He’s that special. He’s also one of those guys if you can keep him to his average, you’ve done a good job. You don’t want him to have a crazy blowup night on you. But if you keep him around his average, you probably played him well. He’s that gifted.”
Durant became just the 19th player in league history to reach 26,000 points. He has 25 points in each of the Nets’ first 16 games, the longest such run since Michael Jordan in 1988-89.
The Nets led 85-82 going into the fourth quarter before the Blazers went on a 9-2 run. But with Portland still up, 95-90, the Nets ripped off 10 unanswered points.
Simmons, intentionally fouled with 3:28 left, made one of two. The Blazers did it again 32 seconds later, and Simmons hit both for a 103-99 lead.
Watanabe’s corner 3-pointer made it 106-101 with 1:47 left.
An ill-advised offensive foul away from the ball — with Durant trying to screen Justise Winslow — gave Portland the ball with the Nets clinging to a 106-103 edge and 31 seconds remaining in regulation. Simmons fouled out, sending Jusuf Nurkic to the line, but he only made one of two, leaving the Nets up by a deuce.
Durant went to the line with 14.9 seconds left. He missed the first free throw, but made the second.
Just as missed free throws by Durant had hurt in a Nov. 7 loss at Dallas, these misses seemed set to haunt the Nets when Nurkic completed a three-point play with six seconds left to knot the score.
Until O’Neale untied it.