After dropping 54 on Friday, Kevin Durant barely even got to 30 against the Kings on Sunday. He needed a little Kings comeback that cut a 22-point lead to 12 with 3:18 left to get back in the game, and two free throws right before he sat down again to do it.
The Thunder cruised to a third straight win, 108-93 over Sacramento, which limited Durant’s work night to essentially three quarters. And in those 32 minutes, he went for 30 points on 10-15 shooting, five rebounds, nine assists and four steals. I guess that’s not too bad.
I’m sure there had to be a little natural temptation to follow-up a career game with another scoring outburst, especially when you see Rudy Gay is the guy guarding you. But after the Warriors win on Friday, Durant described his mindset behind the 54 simply as “doing what his team needed him to do.” In that game, his team needed buckets, and lots of them. This game, it was distribution and taking what the defense gave him.
KD summarized in an incredibly simple way: “I just tried to be aggressive, put pressure on the rim and the defense. If they draw in, I kick it out. If not, I lay the ball up and take a good shot.”
Draw in, kick out. If not, take an open shot. Man, basketball sounds super easy when you’re Kevin Durant.
“KD is a special player,” said Scott Brooks. “Some nights he’s going to have a high scoring game. I just like the way he thinks. He thinks about the team. He had nine assists tonight, took 15 great shots and made 10 of them. Everybody got involved, everybody else got an opportunity to score. He commands so much attention, but he’s not looking to score and that’s what I love about what he brings night in and night out.”
This game presented a bit of danger it seemed to the Thunder, playing a competitive Kings team that has a resume of beating good teams, with OKC coming off two challenging games. And after the first quarter, it seemed as if there was a little letdown in energy and focus.
But the Thunder got their crap together nicely, mostly behind Durant’s brilliance, and outscored the Kings by 17 over the final three quarters, putting together a three-game win streak and improving to 8-5 in these 13 games thus far without Russell Westbrook.
And there’s this, too: After 41 games, the Thunder are 31-10. They were 32-9 at this point last season. Last season’s team won 60 games and finished with the best record in the Western Conference. Obviously the current circumstances around this season are quite different, and the Thunder are enduring new challenges. But they’re still on a similar pace, and assuming their All-Star point guard returns on time and the team continues to figure things out as they have over the last week, 60 wins might not be unattainable after all.
The Thunder have enough to maintain, and even thrive in this current stretch without Westbrook. And it’s simply because No. 35 is that freaking good. He reads, he reacts, he adjusts, he adapts, he understands. He does it all while not doing it all. He scores without forcing, he passes without being passive.
I don’t know if the Thunder have as much figured out how to play and win without Russell Westbrook, as much as it’s just that Kevin Durant is an absurdly brilliant basketball player. Which for now, is more than enough.
- Serge Ibaka put together another 20-point game, finishing with 20 on 9-13 shooting, six rebounds and two blocks in 29 minutes. This is the third straight game for Ibaka scoring at least 20, the first time he’s ever done that in his career.
- There’s been a lot of talk — and for good reason — that Ibaka isn’t the same player without Westbrook. But it seems that he’s overcoming a lot of that and finding himself regardless.
- Ibaka’s last three games: 20.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, on 73 percent shooting (27-of-37).
- Isaiah Thomas started the game by torching Jackson, so Scott Brooks then tried Derek Fisher on him for only reasons known to God above.
- After another Thomas hit what felt like his 10th 3-pointer of the first half, Durant stood up from the bench yelled across the court to Reggie Jackson, “Take the challenge!” After Thomas finished the first half with 27, Thabo started the second half on him. Guess Reggie didn’t take the challenge.
- Jackson was just inconsistent tonight. He finished with 16, but on 4-16 shooting, with five rebounds and four assists.
- The Thunder went with the Game of Thrones theme for the Kings starting intro. Does that mean I get to call Isaiah Thomas the half-man from now on? And much like Tyrion Lannister, he was an unstoppable force of destruction.
- Steven Adams showed off his rugby background, holding off three Kings scrapping for a loose ball.
- First four Thunder possessions, two Perk turnovers. He finished with four. And two baskets. The Perk basket-to-turnover ratio was a 1:2 tonight.
- One thing about Derek Fisher’s defense: He’s got great hands. He’s not very good at stopping the man in front of him, and gets screened pretty easily (but flails well when he does!), but he has a knack for getting his hand on the basketball.
- My favorite time of any game is when KD has the ball in an obvious 2-for-1 situation. Guaranteed off-the-dribble 3. And almost a guaranteed make at this point.
- Nick Collison in 17 minutes had 10 points and seven rebounds.
- Steven Adams with seven rebounds in 19 minutes. Guy just inhales rebounds.
- Perk nearly hit a halfcourt shot at the buzzer in the second quarter. When it became obvious he was going to launch it, I think it might’ve been the most anticipated shot in Thunder history. The potential outcome was going to be awesome guaranteed. Would he throw it over the basket and all the way to the club level? Would he break the shot clock? Would it go in somehow?
- That’s Perk’s first 3-point attempt since Jan. 14, 2013. He’s now 0-13 for his career.
- KD extended his 30-point streak to seven games with two late free throws. Also, it completely messed up a lede I had written for this game.
- The Kings went Hack-A-Perk late in the fourth. Mike Malone wasn’t exactly playing the percentages as Perk is a decent free throw shooter (60 percent), but he did go just 1-of-4 in that situation.
- Thing I love about Serge Ibaka: He tries to high five all the time. Any situation, any moment, if he’s walking by a teammate, he’s sticking out his hand for a five.
- Adams fouled out for a third straight game, which are the first three of his career.
- The Thunder are 3-0 in games Adams fouls out.
- Remember how Scott Brooks talked about how he thought winning the jump ball was important? Well, tonight’s a great example of it. End of the third, OKC got a 2-for-1 and Durant hit a 3, then drew a foul. Five points there, and possession to start the fourth. To which Jeremy Lamb canned a 3. An 8-2 run in 30 seconds.
- Royal Ivey didn’t have any special handshakes with the team tonight. So how’s it work? Since he’s just on a 10-day, is it not worth coming up with some good stuff if he’s not going to be around, or have they just not had time, or what? I need to ask about this.
- Rudy Gay picked up back-to-back technicals early in the fourth and got tossed.
- With the Seahawks and Niners playing a classic, Scott Brooks walked into his postgame presser and joked about making it short and sweet so we could all go watch the finish. Turned out it wasn’t a joke. It lasted two minutes and thirty-nine seconds. Obviously the entire Thunder team was in the locker room watching it and after the final interception, a few Thunder players could be heard in the showers singing that Aloe Blacc song from the Beats By Dre commercial.
- Also, and I believe it was KD, but someone was yelling “OMAHA! OMAHA!” repeatedly in the showers.
Next up: Home against the Blazers on Tuesday