Reggie Jackson summarized things simply in his postgame radio interview.
“We gave the ball to the baddest man on the planet,” he said. “He took care of the rest.”
That literally, precisely, exactly is what the Thunder did on their final possession. Tie game with 22.5 seconds left, shot clock off, Jackson stood near halfcourt dribbling casually, letting the seconds drain. Fifteen seconds, 12 seconds, 10 seconds. Fans started to grumble and mumble.
Then Kevin Durant snapped into action, shed his man and came and took the ball 40 feet from the basket with eight seconds left. Everyone knew where the ball was going before the play started, but Durant knew where it was going to end up when it finished. The Hawks were prepared, sending an immediate double to help DeMarre Carroll. Durant sensed it, and quickly darted to his right with his dribble. The Hawks sent a third man, a fourth man, and eventually just threw the whole damn team at Durant.
Because they knew what was coming.
But there wasn’t a single thing in the world they could do to stop. The Reaper takes what the Reaper wants.
All net, 1.5 seconds left. Thunder up 111-109.
“Coach just cleared it out for me and I had to make a play,” Durant said. “It was an emotional game. I was up and down the whole game. My emotions were everywhere so I just had to try to keep it together at the end of the game and come through for my team. And by the grace of God I was able to hit a few shots.”
As he sat by his locker, barefoot with an “Oklahoma City Basketball” shirt on and some practice shorts, Durant kind of looked spent. Maybe it’s because the weight of trying to do this every night is getting to him, or maybe it’s that he’s just riding some kind of crazy wave of emotions, trying to soak up the same thing we’re seeing. This is special, and he knows it. And he’s the one doing it.
“I’m just trying to inspire the team by my play. Just playing hard, being emotional. Hopefully it helps,” he said. “Sometimes it may not, but I’ve got to take that risk, take that chance. Because that’s how I am on the court, I’m an emotional player. I know we play a lot of games and a lot of people say January don’t mean anything, but when you’re playing this game with you heart and passion like we do, you’ve just got to enjoy it.”
The thing about this performance from Durant, is that he essentially had to Hodor his team to the final buzzer. The Thunder led once before his final two shots, and it was 2-0 on a Kendrick Perkins fadeaway that allowed fans to finally take their seats. That last dagger capped a 41-point night on 15-25 shooting — 5-7 from 3 — with four rebounds, five assists, two steals and three blocks. It’s Durant’s sixth 40-point game of the season (next closest is two) and the fifth in January alone.
It’s just, I mean, I think, you know, it’s, what we’re seeing, it’s just, I mean.
“I’m just trying to play,” Durant said. “I’m not coming in saying ‘I got to do this or I have to do this.’ I’m not one of those guys that predetermines anything, I just go off how the game is played and the different schemes teams are throwing at me and be aggressive that way. I’m just enjoying it, just having fun with it and taking it a day at a time.”
Scott Brooks, asked for the 50th time in the last few weeks to try and recap what he saw from his superstar, put it this way:
“There’s nothing more to say.”
Nope, KD just dropped the mic again tonight.
- I don’t know how the Thunder managed to do it. Missing one of their most important players, the true MVP, the guy that has them playing their best basketball, they were able to beat the Hawks, securing an eighth straight win. And the bad news: They’re going to have to figure out how to play the rest of the season without him. But I’m confident the Thunder can continue to find ways to win without Royal Ivey.
- After KD hit the first jumper with 25 seconds left, during the timeout he watched the replay on the jumbotron. I wonder what that’s like. “Oh there’s me, sweet crossover me, nice step-back, and boom, in your face Carroll. Man, I’m really good at this.”
- KD made an interesting point postgame about how the Thunder have essentially played the same defensive system three of the last four games. “This is the third team we’ve played that’s been under that San Antonio umbrella.” They’ve played the Spurs, then the 76ers, who are coached by Pop disciple Brett Brown, then the Hawks tonight, coached by Pop disciple Mike Budenholzer. So the Thunder were prepared.
- With 3:15 left in the third quarter, the Thunder had Atlanta’s lead down to six, and Scott Brooks subbed out Thabo for Lamb. Durant looked confused at the time, but with about a minute left during a dead ball, KD walked up to Brooks and asked him, “Why’d you take Thabo out of the game?” Next possession, Thabo checked back in, and played the rest of the game. Good job, Coach KD.
- Not to be overlooked: KD hit the game-tying bucket, then came up with a block on Millsap that resulted in a 24-second violation. He genuinely took over everywhere.
- Scott Brooks was asked pregame what the most impressive thing about Durant’s stretch has been. He sat there thinking, for what was at least five seconds, then finally said, “Passing.”
- Tonight was also Bedlam, maybe the biggest matchup between the two schools in basketball in 10 years. It had most of the attention in the state. But it was Durant that put on the show. It’s a perfect example of why you go to the arena when the Thunder are playing. You just don’t know what No. 35 might do. It’s a different show with a different ending every night.
- In a lot of the recent games, Durant’s gotten pretty good help in most of them whether it be from Serge Ibaka or Reggie Jackson. Tonight, Jackson had 18, which is good, but had some issues for a lot of the game and was just 7-17. Ibaka only scored nine. Jeremy Lamb was really the Thunder’s best secondary option tonight with 14 on 5-8 shooting, but he didn’t play any in the fourth quarter. Durant really did most of this on his own.
- Russell Westbrook was MIA tonight as he was in Los Angeles for a planned check-up. Fingers crossed for good news.
- That’s 11 straight games for Durant with at least 30 points this season.
- One of my new favorite trends after Thunder games is seeing all the writers browsing Basketball Reference immediately after.
- The way KD can just so casually score 18 points in a first half is stunning. It was like, “Oh, only 18?” There are only 29 total players in the league averaging more than 18 a game. And KD’s putting that up basically in every half like it’s absolutely nothing.
- Nick Collison in 18 minutes: Eight points and five assists. Hashtag, Co-MVP.
- Third quarter, after a tip miss on an offensive rebound, KD came to the scoretable and told them to not count it as a shot. They did though, giving him his fourth miss. That type of thing isn’t anything new with Durant. He tracks his numbers obsessively throughout every game. Incredibly aware of what he’s doing.
- The Thunder went 13-25 from 3. That’s really good!
- The Hawks went 12-25 from 3. Also, really good. But not quite as good.
- OKC was terrible on the defensive glass tonight. The Hawks had 13 offensive boards, but it felt more like 30. I thought Ibaka was especially poor in blocking out.
- Ibaka did swat six shots, though. That’s 11 blocks his last two games.
- Credit where it’s due: Derek Fisher was terrific tonight. He hit some big fourth quarter shots and in OKC’s smallball lineup, got caught in switches routinely on both Millsap and Mike Scott. And he competed his high butt off, denying the post with some tough fronting. Fisher’s been really good in January. He has.
- Here’s where the Thunder fail miserably in terms of their game presentation: How do you not acknowledge the Slim Reaper phenomenon? How do you not play “Don’t Fear the Reaper” or Christopher Walken saying he needs more cowbell or something? C’mon bros.
- Per the Elias Sports Bureau: Including tonight, Kevin Durant has 15 final-minute-of-the-game field goals in which he put his team up for good in a game. Since the start of the 2007-08 season (Durant’s first season), only Kobe Bryant has more field goals of this type (Bryant has 17).
- It was Military Appreciation Night, and 1,000 Thunder season ticket holders voluntarily gave up their tickets for military personnel. Very cool.
- The national anthem tonight was sung entirely by the crowd, which was neat. But here’s a thing I’ve been thinking about for a while: When you sing the anthem, you’re supposed to be looking at the flag, right? So shouldn’t the game operations folks turn off the jumbotron screen, or at least set it to only a shot of the flag? Because that’s all anyone watches. It’s just shots of people singing the anthem and nudging their friend next to them, but nobody’s looking at the flag in the arena because we’re staring at that giant screen in front of us. Just a thought.
- Tony Romo was sitting behind on the baseline next to the Thunder bench tonight. Any coincidence the Hawks got outscored 32-22 in the fourth quarter tonight with him behind their basket?
- Really cool thing I thought: Romo after the game was waiting at the end of the hall near the Thunder’s locker room, clearly waiting to meet Durant. Though as someone tweeted me, this has the feeling of a Thunderstruck sequel waiting to happen.
- OKC carries an eight-game win streak into Miami to take on the Heat. Oh boy.
Next up: At Miami on Wednesday