Kevin Durant Should Keep Gunner's Mentality as Long as Russell Westbrook Is out

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Kevin Durant Should Keep Gunner's Mentality as Long as Russell Westbrook Is out
USA Today

The Oklahoma City Thunder triumphed over the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night, 105-97, thanks to the clutch scoring of center Kendrick Perkins.

...wait, that doesn't sound right.

While Perkins certainly did provide a critical two points with a shockingly accurate 12-foot baseline jumper with 1:36 left, the Thunder won this game for the same reason they win most games: Kevin Durant.

Durant put the Thunder on his back in the last 3:30 of the game. He had just picked up a charge for lowering his shoulder on a drive, and felt he had been hacked on the previous possession. He lit into the officials and was assessed a technical foul.

Durant is lanky basketball Hulk; the Blazers made him angry, and that's not a good thing if you're an opponent. Oklahoma City was down five points at the time, but by the end of Durant's 11-point barrage, the Thunder had not only taken the lead, but pushed their advantage to eight points. And Durant was laughing like a cartoon super-villain, per Daily Thunder's Royce Young:

First, he sliced through the Blazers defense for a layup. Then he hit a three. And another three. And another three. Each shot was defended, but when Durant gets going, no defender on Earth can stop him.

The Blazers, who had already beaten the Thunder twice on the season, have perhaps the best starting lineup in the league. With the Thunder's star point guard Russell Westbrook out with a knee injury, Portland had a clear advantage in overall talent. But they don't have Durant, and on Tuesday that made all the difference.  

Durant isn't the kind of player that demands the ball, but with Westbrook out he really has little other choice. The Thunder need him to keep on shooting to win.

 

Durant's Mid-Game Lull

Durant scored 15 points in the first 12 minutes of the game. He ended with 22 points in the final 14:30. But it was that time in between when he exhibited an unselfishness that could have cost his team the game.

The Blazers are a very good team, but they are a team of extremes. Coming into the Tuesday, they ranked first in the league in offensive efficiency, but only 20th in defense, per Basketball-Reference.  They couldn't stop Durant in the first quarter, but they could outscore Oklahoma City's one-man gang.

Durant's 15 points couldn't put Oklahoma City over the top, as the other Thunder players combined for only six points in the quarter. The Blazers jumped out to a 27-21 lead due to their powerhouse offense, but also due to the Thunder's lack of scoring depth.

In the second quarter, Durant did what any good teammate would do: he got everyone involved. He took only three shots in the period, scoring five points. But his teammates responded, scoring 25 in the period, as Oklahoma City narrowed the deficit to one at the half.

But Durant got a little too cute in the third. With 2:30 left in the period, he had taken only four shots, the same as Serge Ibaka (1-of-4) and Reggie Jackson (1-of-4). By that time, the Thunder had achieved relative balance in their field goal attempts:

  • Durant: 10-of-15, 24 points
  • Ibaka: 4-of-13, 10 points
  • Jackson: 5-of-16, 11 points

But the Blazers had taken a nine-point lead. Ibaka was a beast on defense, blocking five shots in the game, but he wasn't hitting his shots. Jackson chipped in with seven rebounds and five assists, but his shooting was ice-cold. The balanced scoring approach was not working. 

So Durant put on his Superman cape, and scored eight of the Thunder's last 11 points in the final 2:30. 

Here is a breakdown of Durant's scoring in the game.

Kevin Durant's Scoring Splits
FGM-A 3PM-A FTM-A PTS OKC's +/-
1st 6-8 0-1 3-3 15 -6
2nd 2-3 1-1 0-0 5 +5
3rd (first 9:30) 2-4 0-0 0-0 4 -8
3rd (last 2:30) 2-4 2-2 2-2 8 +11
4th 5-6 3-3 1-2 14 +6

stats.nba.com

In the end, he did what he had to do. He tried to get his teammates involved in the scoring, but it wasn't working. So he took the initiative and scored points in the kind of volume that only Durant can consistently provide. 

 

Selfless Shooting

There are selfish scorers in this league, to be sure—players who put their own stat lines ahead of the team. Kevin Durant is not one of those players.

His shot attempts have come under the microscope recently, thanks to a now-famous interview in which reigning-MVP LeBron James told ESPN's Tom Haberstroh he was jealous of the number of shots Durant gets to put up every game.  

Nobody would argue that Durant doesn't put up a lot of shots. He ranks second in the league in total field goal attempts, per Basketball-Reference. The player above him on the list was his opponent on Tuesday night, Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge

But Durant showed on Tuesday—and has demonstrated time and again—that he should shoot more than other players. Check out his shooting percentages compared to Aldridge.

  • Durant: 50.2 FG%, 41.1 3P%, 88.1 FT%
  • Aldridge: 47.6 FG%, 12.5 3P%, 81.6 FT%

Quite simply, a shot coming from Kevin Durant is better than a shot coming from almost everyone else.

This is especially true when he is playing with the likes of Ibaka and Jackson as his scoring wingmen. They are good players, and they will get their points, but there will often come a time when Durant will need to be selfish, for the good of the team. And that isn't really being selfish at all.

We are experiencing something special, NBA fans. The greatest scorer of his generation needs to score more, and as often as possible, for his team to win. His coach is excited, per Young:

Even his greatest adversary is excited, per Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears:

Listen to Scott Brooks and LeBron James, people. Watch Kevin Durant, whenever you can. 

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