ORLANDO — The 2012 All-Star Weekend got Thunderstruck.
OK, you can punch me in the face for that one later. But it was pretty clear when Pitbull’s smoke machines settled Sunday night — the Thunder kind of sort of owned the NBA’s showcase event.
First, Kevin Durant took home the grand prize, the All-Star Game MVP trophy with a 36-point performance leading the West to a win. Second, he came in second in the 3-point contest, surprising even Scott Brooks on his performance.
Third, Russell Westbrook was completely spectacular Sunday night, flushing six dunks, each one better than the last. At halftime of the game Sunday, Durant had 21 points and Westbrook 17, which led all scorers. It was almost just like a typical Wednesday night at The Peake. KD was scoring with ease with Westbrook running alongside him.
But here’s the thing: This might be typical for All-Star Weekend for some time too. With Durant and Westbrook still sitting at just 23 years old, those two have a long time ahead of them playing in the big game. They had the good fortune of Scott Brooks running the show which meant both got big minutes, but after the efforts they turned in, it’s hard to argue that they didn’t earn that time.
And while Durant was the one left to hoist the trophy as Westbrook applauded, the two shared the glow. Westbrook had the world buzzing after his assortment of dunks. The steal and jam. The two-hand dunk complete with an awkward dance. The self-oop that was so bad that Westbrook showed off some crazy skill finishing it. The tomahawk in the fourth. Westbrook exploded for 15 of his 21 in the second quarter and had everybody’s attention.
It’s hard to ignore the fact though that Sunday belonged to Durant. In a game where he was sharing the stage with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant and a list of superstars, KD was the one who stood tall. The 36 points and brief flirtation with Wilt Chamberlain’s record were great, but the Western squad had a new look to it. Instead of being the No. 24’s team, it kind of started to look like the No. 35’s.
For instance, with Kobe Bryant on the floor with Durant and the East pulling within a point, it was Durant’s running floater that put the West back up three. Durant took the most shots (25) and basically controlled the offense. That’s the power of the Durantula — he pushed the Black Mamba aside and owned the game. Not an easy thing to do. Think about what KD had to overcome to put up his big night. Not only did he have to conquer playing against the best players in the world, but he had to share shots with Kobe Bryant. No small tasks.
KD downplayed his superstardom once again, and before you think it’s forced humility, know that the way Durant said it suggests otherwise. He lowered his head, grinned and gave a look of, “Ah shucks man.”
“I wouldn’t say that yet. Hopefully. Hopefully soon I can say that,” he said. “Once I grow old, I can tell my kids that I got an All-Star Game trophy.”
Trust me, you won’t be telling them about an All-Star Game trophy. You’re going to be telling them about a lot of trophies.
But All-Star Weekend is just the halfway point. It doesn’t count for anything other than pride and fun times. Durant won an All-Star MVP, which is something nice to add to his growing resume and Russell Westbrook blew minds with his rocket booster hops. It’s always nice to get attention and recognition, but it’s back to work Monday. It’s back to watching film, thinking about pick-and-roll defense and winning games.
Sunday’s game provided potentially a small snippet of the future as Westbrook and Durant went toe-to-toe with LeBron and Wade down the stretch, but when asked if maybe we saw a little Finals preview, Durant pumped the brakes hard.
“Whoa,” he said. “You taking it down the line man. It’s too early for that.”
Too early for sure, because there’s work to be done. But the Thunder are in good hands, and for a good while too. They’re beginning to own the big stage, beginning to take ownership of the Western Conference. And not just atop the standings, but in the hierarchy of player position. All in just a matter of a couple years, there we were, watching the Thunder dominate an All-Star Weekend. I don’t even think surreal is the right word for it.