OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Kevin Durant emphatically showed who is still No. 1 in the West, delivering a pair of jarring dunks late in the first half and finishing with 21 points and six assists before being ejected to lead the Golden State Warriors past the Denver Nuggets 116-102 on Tuesday night in a matchup of the top two teams in the conference.
DeMarcus Cousins had a season-best 28 points, on 12-for-17 shooting, 12 rebounds, five assists and two blocks for the Warriors (53-24), who have a two-game lead and the tiebreaker on Denver (51-26) with five games to go in the chase for the Western Conference’s top seed and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. Golden State lost out on the No. 1 spot to Houston last year, but still went on to capture a repeat title.
Durant was ejected with 8:21 left in the third. He became furious wanting a foul call when he airballed a 3-point shot over Paul Millsap, then pointed at and yelled toward official Zach Zarba. Cousins stood between Durant and Zarba, who wasted no time tossing the two-time reigning finals MVP.
Those were his 14th and 15th technicals, meaning he is one away from an automatic suspension.
Before that, Durant dazzled.
He rebounded Jamal Murray’s missed 3 and drove the court, dribbling with his left hand through the paint before switching hands to deliver a powerful one-handed slam. He had another moment before halftime, driving the baseline for a two-handed dunk as the Warriors grabbed a 59-43 halftime lead.
Stephen Curry added 17 points, five rebounds and five assists. His 3-pointer with 7:22 left gave him five or more 3s in a career-best nine straight games and moved the two-time MVP (16,236) past Chris Mullin (16,235) for fourth place on the Warriors all-time points list.
Murray scored 17 points after he departed the Nuggets’ 95-90 home loss Sunday to Washington in the third quarter with a sprained left ankle and didn’t return. Murray, who missed six games from Jan. 26-Feb. 4 with an injury to the same ankle, was closely monitored and played 29 minutes.
Millsap had 11 points shooting 4 of 11 for Denver, which lost for the third time in four games and played the first night of a tough back-to-back with San Antonio visiting the Mile High City on Wednesday.
Durant and Draymond Green had four assists apiece in the opening quarter as Cousins got hot. The big man stole the ball from Nikola Jokic and took it coast-to-coast for a left-handed layup.
Denver jumped to a 20-16 lead before Golden State’s 14-4 burst put the Warriors up 30-24 heading into the second. Denver never recovered.
On a night the NBA champs played at raucous Oracle Arena, the World Series champion Boston Red Sox were next-door facing the Oakland Athletics in the second game of a four-game series.
Nuggets: The Nuggets shot 7 of 31 from deep. ... They are 12-12 vs. the West on the road. ... Denver had won at least two games against Golden State in nine of the previous 14 seasons.
Warriors: Cousins had his sixth 20-point game. ... Curry now has 340 3s, his second-most in a season behind the NBA-record 402 he hit in 2015-16. ... Golden State won the season series 3-1 and has won 11 of the last 16 with the Nuggets — including eight of nine at home. ... The Warriors also have won five of the last eight season series against Denver.
Draymond Green, Curry and Durant were fined as expected for criticizing officiating for multiple calls late in a 131-130 overtime loss Friday at Minnesota. Green was fined $35,000 for comments on social media that “impugned the integrity of NBA officiating.” Curry was fined $25,000 for his “actions and public statements.” Durant’s fine of $15,000 was for “public criticism” of the refereeing. The discipline was announced Tuesday by NBA executive Kiki VanDeWeghe.
“Not surprised. We know the rules,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We know how this works. Our guys knew that was coming.”
Nuggets: Host the Spurs on Wednesday.
Warriors: At the Lakers on Thursday.