Kevin Durant showed the Lakers what it was like to play against Kobe Bryant.
Kevin Durant’s display of basketball virtuosity in Golden State’s 116-114 win over the Los Angeles Lakers embodied the chasm between the shallow end of #NBATwitter and the broader reality. Perusing Twitter feeds on Monday night, would have you believe Durant was getting cooked on both sides of the ball after receiving above the rim facials from Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr.
However, an occasional posterization is to be expected for a lanky wing who’s become one of the NBA’s premier shot-blockers. It’s also an inevitable result of when Nance and Randle slashed to the rim, gathering a head of steam while Durant contested without a running start. From a competitive standpoint, it’s better to be an aggressive rim defender than Brook Lopez getting shook and moonwalking out of the lane so LeBron James’ could walk a red carpet to the rim.
Do-it-all Durant did a little bit of everything. He picked up Draymond Green’s duties, defended the paint, sometimes unsuccessfully, dished eight assists and recorded three blocks. Durant has also enjoyed a rare offensive hegemony for much of the past two weeks due to the void left behind in the wake of a string of DNPs for Steph Curry and Green. Durant isn’t the same caliber of a showman as either of those two Warriors teammates. He’s usually an offensive model of Silicon Valley tech efficiency. Yet he’s kept them on pace with Houston, winners of 14 in a row, by spearheading his own nine-game winning streak.
In the five games since Curry turned his ankle, Durant has improved up his already stellar numbers by averaging 34.2 points, hoisting up a 49 percent field goal percentage, collected 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 7.4 assists a night. A large segment of the NBA community is giddy to see Durant fail. That vindictive mob has largely ignored Durant awakening his latent MVP candidacy.
They missed him rejecting Nance at the rim in the first half. They were also gleeful at Durant chucking up a 4-for-20 shooting brick mansion after three quarters and 6-of-25 barf bag through the end of regulation. Ultimately, Durant persevered through an uncharacteristically inefficient night and made all four of his attempts in overtime.
It was an appropriate occasion for him to his finger pressed on the trigger as if he was Controller 1 in a first-person shooter.
Per ESPN NBA writer Baxter Holmes, the juxtaposition of Durant saving the day on a night when the preeminent hero ball guard of the 21st century, was honored didn’t escape Steve Kerr, whose system is the antithesis of the sticky ball brand of basketball that Kobe Bryant became associated with during his 20-year career.
“If you think about Kobe’s career, how many games like that did he have where maybe things weren’t going his way and he hits the game-winning shot,” Steve Kerr said after the win. “Michael Jordan used to do that all the time. That’s what the great players do.”
“That was a Kobe night,” Durant joked. “I had to get them [shots] up tonight for Kob.”
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But it takes a truly gifted performer to encapsulate a great performer more accurately than a Jay Pharaoh impersonation. On a night when the Lakers honored the Black Mamba by retiring both his No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys, Golden State’s silky, smooth, scoring wiz rained on his parade.
With the clock ticking under 15 seconds in overtime, Durant wiggled inside the arc, snapped a crossover to his right, creating enough separation for him to rise up over Lonzo Ball and delivered a Mamba-esque dagger.
Kevin Durant hits the game-winner in OT over Lonzo Ball! pic.twitter.com/YajhpAb5PG
— DRK Sports (@drksportsnews) December 19, 2017
In contrast to looking back at Bryant’s career, it’s an enticing exercise to look forward and imagine that with enough clutch buckets like that, the vitriol for Durant will subside and one day he’ll will be received as openly by NBA Twitter at his own ceremony. In the interim, it’s not too late to recognize the splendor that is Peak Durant.