It was not Kevin Durant's best night.
The Oklahoma City Thunder forward clearly had a little less in the tank during the fourth quarter of Friday night's 111-107 loss to the Houston Rockets. The Thunder had won a critical game just 24 hours earlier, beating the No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs. With point guard Russell Westbrook sitting on the second night of their back-to-back, the burden fell increasingly on Durant's shoulders.
Though he did everything he could, Durant couldn't quite will all of those late-game shots to go in. He left several attempts short—a clear indication of fatigue. Maybe Durant is human after all.
Or maybe he isn't. Durant still poured in 11 fourth-quarter points, bringing his total to 28 on the evening—the 40th consecutive game in which he has scored at least 25 points.
Even Westbrook, his longtime teammate, marveled at the ease with which the lanky forward has been getting his points of late, per The Associated Press (via ESPN):
That's a lot of games to be scoring 25 points in a row. You can't just not think about that. That's an unbelievable stat. I think he may just finish the season doing that. He does that in his sleep.
In honor of Durant, let's compare his numbers to those of some of the greatest scoring streaks of all time.
Durant By the Numbers
At the time, Oklahoma City's Jan. 5 game against the Boston Celtics did not seem like a critical moment in NBA history. The favored Thunder won comfortably, 119-96. Thunder coach Scott Brooks subbed out Durant late in the third quarter, with the team up by 15.
But Oklahoma City's bench dominated the Celtics, and the lead ballooned to 20 early in the fourth. With the game well in hand, Brooks decided to give his star the rest of the night off. Durant finished the evening with 21 points on 6-of-13 shooting.
It would be the last time he scored fewer than 25 points in a game.
Over the past two months, Durant has quite simply set the league on fire. Let's break down some of the important numbers behind the streak:
- Age: 25
- Per-game averages: 39.2 minutes, 34.7 points, 22.1 field-goal attempts, 6.9 three-point attempts, 10.5 free-throw attempts, 6.9 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.7 blocks, 4.0 turnovers.
- Field-goal percentage: 51.7
- Three-point percentage: 40.2
- Highest single-game point total: 54
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the streak is that his assist numbers have gone up significantly. Durant averaged 4.9 assists per game on Jan. 5, meaning that he has actually been dishing at least one extra dime per game despite his increase in scoring.
Truly, Durant is doing it all for the Thunder.
He now stands with some legends of the game. Only three other players in NBA history have scored at least 25 points in 40 games, per ESPN:
Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan are on everyone's short list for the greatest players in basketball history.
Both Chamberlain and Robertson accomplished their respective feats at least 50 years ago. While not disparaging their accomplishments, it's important to remember that the game was far different in their day than it is now.
That leaves Jordan's streak as the only sensible standard from which we can compare Durant. That's right: We've entered "only Jordan can compare" territory—a lofty perch indeed.
His Airness actually has two regular-season streaks of exactly 40 games with at least 25 points. But his second streak spans the end of the 1987-88 and 1989 seasons, so we will only look at his single-season, 1986-87 streak here (Dec. 12 - March 11):
- Age: 24
- Per-game averages: 39.6 minutes, 37.3 points, 28.2 field-goal attempts, 0.9 three-point attempts, 11.6 free-throw attempts, 5.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.8 steals, 1.6 blocks, 3.5 turnovers.
- Field-goal percentage: 48.1
- Three-point percentage: 20.0
- Highest single-game point total: 61
Jordan was one year younger than Durant is now and playing only his third season (Durant is finishing up his seventh NBA campaign).
Jordan didn't bother much with the three-point shot, averaging fewer than one per game. Durant chucks nearly seven three-pointers a night. Though Jordan did score more points, Durant has him beat in shooting percentage (which is particularly amazing, given how many more threes he shoots), rebounds and assists.
You can argue that Jordan's defense puts him over the top, but it seems clear that Durant is playing at an equal level at the moment, at least on offense.
Durant won't get a chance to make a run at Chamberlain's single-season mark. There just aren't enough games left in the season. The Thunder have seven games remaining, which means that Durant could surpass Robertson's mark of 46 straight, unless Brooks rests him for the playoff run.
Players like Durant, who came so close to winning a ring two years ago, probably care little for such arbitrary numbers as this 25-points streak. Looking forward, he's likely already focused on the postseason.
But that doesn't mean the fans shouldn't take a moment and reflect upon what he has accomplished over these past 40 games. He has played basketball at the highest level imaginable, and it has been a joy to watch.
*All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.
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