With two “sub-par” games where he had 26 points in each (one a blow out victory against the Brooklyn Nets where Durant didn’t play the fourth quarter, and one against the Washington Wizards where Trevor Ariza “held” him to an 8-21 shooting night), Kevin Durant was back above the 30 point mark for the 28th time this season against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Oklahoma City Thunder were able to get the win and to put points on the board when it was required, and Durant eclipsed the 30 point mark again, but it was his all around game that was again on display showing the basketball world that he is one of the best and most complete players in the league today – not just the best scorer.
While Durant was not as efficient on the offensive end as he has been over the past month (he shot 11-21 FG, 2-7 3PT and 7-10FT for his 31pts), you can credit the defensive work of the Memphis Grizzlies for harassing the scoring leader into tough shots and maintaining pressure on him for the full 48 minutes. Faced with a tougher opponent, some players or straight “scorers” might have trouble making an impact – but not Durant. He played through the close attention and although he had 5 turnovers – he was still the best player on the floor.
Only a superstar like Kevin Durant can make a 31pt, 8reb, 8ast night seem “average”.
Durant moved the ball to the open man and continued to attack the defense at every opportunity. This allowed open shots for his Thunder teammates – especially Serge Ibaka – who were able to knock them down more often than not. Ibaka came up huge with a double-double (22pts, 12rebs) against the Grizzlies fierce frontcourt and it was Durant who enabled him to be so successful. Reggie Jackson was again serviceable but a lot of the Thunder offense was run through Durant who proved his ability to make things happen.
When you can score the basketball so effectively and efficiently, you may not develop the other aspects of your game as you will rarely need them. What we have seen from Durant this season though, is a renewed focus on his defensive presence and his playmaking. While Westbrook has been out, KD has had to score a lot more but when that avenue isn’t working for him (which has been very rare) he has been able to play the “set up” role and get the Thunder into their offense – similar to the way LeBron James runs things for Miami.
It is no secret that Durant has been patterning his game after the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player in a quest to win his own MVP trophy – which would be his first – and to make himself and his team better in order to take home the ultimate prize. The NBA world has gone crazy over the past month as Durant scored the ball at an impressive rate and had 12 straight 30+ point games, but after watching his most recent game against the Grizzlies, they might want to appreciate the complete package that Durant is showing.
Opponents know that Durant can score – frequently and quickly, and they study ways to slow him down, move him away from his favourite spots or try to take the ball out of his hands. Durant has shown tonight (and in a number of games this season) that if you play him just for his scoring ability, he will tear you apart in other ways. Just two rebounds and two assists shy of another triple double – he already has two this season and has been close to numerous others – this game showed the progression and development of the Thunder’s franchise star.
It won’t be long now until the Thunder welcome back Russell Westbrook and the Thunder start to build towards the NBA playoffs. Bringing an All Star point guard back into this team is very exciting indeed, and when you have two superstars who can score and make plays, along with a team of talented role players who compliment your stars – the future is bright. As much as a returning Westbrook is essential to the Oklahoma City Thunder’s title dreams, allowing Durant to continue his all around brilliance is also a major focus.
Games like this just show how far Durant has come in a short period of time, and it may take him all the way to the Most Valuable Player award and hopefully a return the the NBA Finals – this time with a different ending to the fairytale.