You could also say that Durant himself stopped the streak himself—with his unique, almost quaint sense of sportsmanship.
Durant arrived in Brooklyn riding a 12-game string of 30-point games—the NBA’s longest streak in more than a decade—and he was well on his way to number 13 at Barclays Center. But the Nets could not stay competitive with Oklahoma City long enough for Durant to justify staying on the court.
Coach Scott Brooks called Durant to the bench with 1:15 left in the third quarter, the Thunder leading 87-58. Durant had 26 points on 10-for-12 shooting, a line that would never change as he spent the rest of the night as a happy spectator.
“To be honest, I didn’t care at all,” Durant said of his streak ending. “I just play the game, just on feel, just on instincts.”
He added, earnestly, and more than once, “I’m glad it’s over with.”
Among today’s NBA superstars, perhaps only Durant could make a statement like that with such sincerity. For all of his pyrotechnics over the last three weeks—the 40-point nights, the 54-point game, the buzzer beaters—Durant has treated the streak with a sheepish chagrin, as if acknowledging the gaudy totals might sound impolite.
To his point: The Thunder’s winning streak, now at 10 games, was thoroughly overshadowed by Durant’s scoring explosion. That streak, all accomplished without injured All-Star Russell Westbrook, includes victories over Miami, San Antonio, Portland, Golden State and Houston, all top playoff teams.
Also overshadowed: a great month of games by Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb, who have all helped offset the loss of Westbrook. Ibaka went 12 for 12 from the field on Friday, a career best, and finished with 25 points, not that anyone noticed.
“I hate taking the credit when our whole team is going out there and playing well,” Durant said. “It was cool, don’t get me wrong. It was something not to be taken for granted. But I’d rather our team get the credit than just myself, because its not just me going out there and contributing to that. Reggie making great passes, Perk (Kendrick Perkins) setting great screens, Serge opening it up for me with his shooting and his rebounding, his shot-blocking. So I’d rather the team get the credit, because I kind of like staying under the radar, I guess.”
With Durant and Ibaka combining to go 22 for 24, the Thunder set an NBA season high for field-goal percentage, at 63.6 percent. The Nets recorded an all-time NBA low for rebounding, with 17.
It was just a week ago that Carmelo Anthony, also playing in a blowout victory, stayed on the court to ensure he would get the Knicks’ franchise scoring record. He got it, with 62 points against the Charlotte Bobcats. No one could fault Anthony for pursuing the mark, and he did take a seat with 7:18 left to play, rather than go for 70.
But Durant is a different breed of star entirely, one who is clearly not consumed with personal glory. He never asked to go back into the game Friday, nor did Brooks ask him if he wanted to.
“I would never ask him,” Brooks said, “because I know the answer. I wouldn’t do that. He’s going to be in this league for a long time. And he’s going to have streaks like this probably again. It’s not like he played a bad basketball game. He didn’t have 30 points. I guess you can say in the last 12, 13 games, I’m the only one that can stop him from 30.”
The Nets had something to do with it, too, allowing the Thunder to take a 14-point lead after one quarter, and a 63-35 point lead by halftime. Durant entered the third quarter with 22 points and seemed a good bet to get to 30, even if he skipped the fourth quarter.
But the Nets started sending extra defenders, and rather than force shots, Durant moved the ball. He attempted just three field goals in the period, making two, letting Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha carry the load.
“I’d much rather take the win,” Durant said. “That’s my type of game, just playing how the game is played. If they’re doubling, make the pass. Play easy. Not try to force anything. That streak was good while it lasted, but that was the last of my concerns.”
Only three other players in the last 30 years had strung together at least 11 games of 30 or more points. Kobe Bryant had the longest streak, 16 straight games in 2003. Could Durant have matched that mark? Surpassed it? We’ll never know, and Durant doesn’t care.
“That’s who he is,” Brooks said. “He’s a team player. He’s a playmaker.”
Brooks added, with a wry grin, “If he cared about the streak, he should have never missed the two shots.”