Kevin Durant scores. He gets buckets. It is what he was born to do.
If any team had a chance of slowing down Durant, it was Golden State. After all, the Warriors employ one of the best wing defenders on Earth in Andre Iguodala.
But Iguodala specializes in shutting down human basketball players, and Durant gave no indication on Friday night that he was human. In fact, photographic evidence suggested quite the opposite, per LakersNation's Andrew Ungvari:
Thus the magical, mystical basketball alien carved up the Warriors defense throughout the game. He had 29 by halftime but was nearly matched by Golden State guards Stephen Curry (22 points) and Klay Thompson (21 points).
Following a lackluster third quarter, in which he "only" scored 10 points, Durant buried the Warriors in the fourth, using his praying mantis arms to shoot over Golden State defenders with ease. With each ensuing possession, Durant drifted further behind the three-point arc. He scored 15 points in the quarter, reaching the 50-point mark with more than five minutes left in the game.
It was an astonishing performance, one that drew praise from opposing head coach Mark Jackson, per The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel: “He's a special talent, a superstar basketball player, an all-time great."
Durant is going OFF!!! Best scorer in the game. @russwest44 why not go for 60?!— Al Horford (@Al_Horford) January 18, 2014
That's high praise, but Durant has earned it.
Durant's final line—54 points on 19-of-28 shooting, four rebounds, six assists, one block and two steals—put him into some rare company, per NBA.com:
. @KDTrey5 is the first player to post 54+pts, 5+ast on 65+%FG since Michael Jordan on 4/3/88— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) January 18, 2014
A Career-Best Scoring Binge
Durant is no stranger to scoring. He won the NBA scoring title in three consecutive years—2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12—before coming in a close second to Carmelo Anthony in 2012-13.
He finished that season with the most total points in the league and only lost the scoring title because Anthony played fewer games, thus driving up his per-game average. All told, Durant has led the league in total scoring in each of the past four years.
It would seem that Durant is not willing to lose another scoring title. In 2013-14, he is averaging a career-high 30.6 points per game, 4.5 points higher than the next-highest scorer (Anthony).
And Durant's scoring has increased precipitously in January.
It should come as little surprise that his month-by-month scoring increase coincides with the absence of star point guard Russell Westbrook, who hasn't played since Dec. 25 after undergoing knee surgery.
However, Durant's January scoring binge has not resulted in more wins for the Thunder. Oklahoma City is not thriving with the Durantula scoring 36.8 points per game, evidenced by the team's 5-4 January record.
According to Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, Westbrook may return before the All-Star break if he has it his way. Until then, Durant will need to keep up this scoring pace.
Looking for Consistency
With Friday's win, the Thunder completed the second half of a very impressive back-to-back, beating Houston and Golden State in two nights.
Before these past two victories, however, the Thunder had been struggling, posting a 3-5 mark in their past eight games. As it stands now, they are still playing .500 ball in their last 10.
So have the Thunder put their consistency problem behind them with this two-game winning streak? Perhaps not.
For all of Durant's scoring brilliance, the Thunder still struggled to put together 48 minutes of concerted effort on defense. On Thursday, Houston scored an NBA season-high 73 points in the first half. On Friday, the Warriors shot 52.4 percent from the floor and 59.3 percent from three (16-of-27).
While Oklahoma City turned up the defensive intensity in the second half and won both games, it still needs to avoid such weak defensive performances in the future.
Having an offensive force like Durant can cover a lot of mistakes, but the Thunder need to amp up the defensive intensity for all four quarters if they want to keep winning.