Kevin Durant is really good.
That's really the only bit of "analysis" I needed for this post and even then it was pretty unnecessary. The video and the play of Durant speaks for itself. He took over the final 3:30 of Tuesday night's game against the Portland Trail Blazers to lift the Oklahoma City Thunder to victory. Heading into the final 3:30 of the game, he already had 35 points on 21 shots. That wasn't going to be enough to take out the Blazers.
Durant decided to do more. He dropped 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting, making three 3-pointers in the process. He took over the game and left the Blazers in disbelief and awe at their destruction by his hands. He was angry and he showed his vengeance in spectacular fashion, leaving all of us bright-eyed and mouth agape at our new overlord and ruler of this basketball world.
Don't get me wrong; LeBron James is still probably the best player in the world. But the stretch we're seeing from Durant right now is the best stretch of basketball we've seen from a player in quite some time. It's even better than that weird record we saw from James last season when he scored 30+ points with 60.0 percent shooting or better for six straight games, the first time that's ever been done in league history.
What Durant is doing is in the face of becoming a mediocre playoff team if he fails to lead his team. With Russell Westbrook out until after the All-Star break, the entire weight of Durant's legacy and playoff positioning are on his skinny shoulders. And yet, he's welcomed the challenge, slapped it in the face, and challenged it to a duel at dawn. This is a problem for the challenge because he's not really missing all that much at the moment.
The quotes coming from his Tuesday night victims kind of say it all about his play right now.
“MVP performance,” said Portland coach Terry Stotts. “To score 46 points on 25 shots, six of seven from 3s…it was an incredible performance. He made shots when they mattered. He took his time and didn't force it. He took what was there, and he made some great shots.”
Blazers guard Mo Williams on Durant: “The way he was playing, he probably could have scored on Jesus.”
“The guy is the best player in the world right now. What can you say about him?” said Blazers forward Nicolas Batum, a salty defender who fended off the pain of a broken left middle finger better than he could Durant, the league's runaway leading scorer halfway through the season. “When you watch him on TV, like, he is the best. When you guard him in the game, sometimes you have two guys on him and he makes the shot anyway.
“He's the MVP. He's the MVP,” Batum repeated, fiddling with his aching finger. “I mean, six years I have been in this league I have never seen a [performance] like that. Six years.”
With scoring performances of 54, 48 (twice), and now 46, Durant has the four highest scoring games in the NBA this season. They've all happened in the past 10 games. Since Westbrook went down with his latest knee surgery, Durant is averaging 36.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 5.6 assists. He's shooting 52.2 percent from the field, 39.4 percent from 3-point range, and 87.3 percent from the line. This is all coming with the defense knowing he's the only one the offense is running through 85 percent of the game. The Thunder are 9-5 during this stretch.
This immediately leads to talk of the MVP race, which I believe is a mistake of a reaction. It does nothing to talk about if the season ended today, you'd give out the awards to certain people because if the season ended today, we'd all be terribly confused as to why they only played half a season. Instead, let's just marvel at what Durant is doing, pop some popcorn, and enjoy the show. We have months to argue about the end-of-season hardware that will be given away. We may not have months or even weeks of what Durant is doing right now.
He's become appointment viewing as an individual in a way we last saw when Kobe Bryant went on his torrential tear in January of 2006. Let's just do what his opponents are doing and appreciate the show. We rarely get to see anything like this.