The Oklahoma City Thunder became a one-star team led solely by Kevin Durant the moment Russell Westbrook underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee.
Since Game 2 of their opening-round series with the Houston Rockets, the sans-Westbrook Thunder have gone 3-3 overall in the postseason, their most recent loss being a 99-93 defeat at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday.
In Westbrook's absence, Durant has led the Thunder in scoring, rebounding and assists in an attempt to will his team back into the NBA Finals.
Durant's individual effort, as well as how the roster around him is now constructed, has also become increasingly similar to the 2007 Cleveland Cavaliers team led solely by LeBron James.
On this version of the Thunder, as well as the '07 Cavs that James carried to the NBA Finals, both superstars led their team in nearly every major statistical category. Both Durant and James were also supported by just three players scoring in double figures, with none averaging as many as 15 point per game.
Though Durant's one-superstar team does have a better individual rim defender, the '07 Cavaliers were a better collective group defensively and had the entire regular season to gel.
Oklahoma City may be scoring more through six games than James and the Cavs did back in '07 playoffs, but just like the most successful postseason team during LeBron's tenure in Cleveland, the depleted Thunder will only advance as far as their one superstar can take them.
Durant is leading all active members of the Oklahoma City Thunder with 33.3 points, 9.1 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 1.3 steals during the postseason. He's accrued those numbers in 42.8 minutes per game while shooting 49.2 percent from the floor.
James, while leading the 2007 Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals, led his team with 25.1 points, eight assists and 1.7 steals in the playoffs. He averaged 44.7 minutes for the slower-paced Cavaliers while shooting 41.6 percent from the field and ranking second on his team in rebounding at 8.1 per game.
During the 2006-07 regular season, Larry Hughes averaged 14.9 points as the next-leading scorer behind James. In the postseason, however, Hughes' scoring dipped to 11.3 points and Zydrunas Ilgauskas took over as the second-leading scorer for Cleveland at 12.6 per night on 49.2 percent shooting. In addition to Ilgauskas and Hughes, Drew Gooden also averaged 11.4 points in the postseason as the Cavs' third scorer in double figures.
In support of Kevin Durant, through Tuesday, Kevin Martin, Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka are the only other members of the Thunder scoring in double figures. Martin is leading that group with 14.1 points, while Jackson and Ibaka are scoring 13.3 and 11.8 respectively.
Of the supporting casts surrounding Kevin Durant at the moment, as well as LeBron James in 2007, Serge Ibaka is the most talented player—specifically around the rim.
Ibaka has averaged three blocks per game in the postseason, and is a real difference-maker on the defensive end. Having had only six games to understand rotations and roles defensively with Westbrook out of the lineup, however, this Thunder team is not the defensive unit collectively that LeBron's Cavaliers were.
The Thunder are currently allowing opponents to score 98.8 points per game, which ranks 10th in the postseason. The '07 Cavaliers, meanwhile, led the NBA by holding opponents to 86.7 points per game in the playoffs.
With Kevin Durant averaging 8.2 points more than LeBron James did in '07, the Thunder are scoring at a much higher rate during the playoffs. The '07 Cavaliers averaged only 88.8 points per game on their way to the NBA Finals in '07, ranking 12th.
The Thunder, meanwhile, rank fourth at 102.6 through Tuesday. But while those numbers for OKC do include two games with Russell Westbrook, the Thunder have also scored at least 100 points in six of the eight games they have played.
The Cavaliers, conversely, reached the 100-point plateau in only three of their 20 games.
Carrying the Load
The 2007 Cavaliers were a much better collective unit than most people remember.
James was far and away their best scorer, but his teammates did enough alongside him to help lead the league defensively throughout the postseason. They also did enough to put LeBron in a position to make big plays, particularly during the Eastern Conference finals against the Detroit Pistons.
But like the roster currently surrounding Durant, James didn't have help in the form of consistent scoring partners throughout the postseason. Daniel Gibson stepped up in one game, scoring 31 points against the Pistons, but only averaged 8.3 points in the playoffs overall.
While Durant may continue to find similar help from Kevin Martin, Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka at times, he will be doing the heavy lifting all by himself.
Just like James used to before arriving on the shores of South Beach.
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