We owe Kevin Durant an enormous debt of gratitude.
All of the potentially alluring narratives of this season have been rather bland. The Miami Heat’s once-dominant defense now struggles with even sub-par opponents. Had these issues occurred in the first year of Miami’s big three, they’d be more compelling. We could attribute them to a lack of chemistry, to three stars too used to being The Men unable to adapt to a new environment. Speculation as to in-fighting between coaches and players would abound. Yet, in their fourth year together, it’s now common knowledge that these mid-season defensive mishaps are mainly the products of coasting and preserving energy for the playoffs.
Paul George erupted in the beginning of the season, vaulting himself into the discussion of one of the top-five players in the league. However, even this wasn’t fully unexpected, as we bore witness to George’s rise last season.
Injuries, too, have greatly robbed this season of intrigue.The New Orleans Pelicans, on paper, had a compelling roster. The Galactus that is Anthony Davis now had his Silver Surfer herald in Jrue Holiday. Surrounding these two elite talents were versatile weapons such as Ryan Anderson, a hopefully healthy Eric Gordon, Jason Smith, and maybe, potentially, Tyreke Evans. Then Anderson sustained an injury, wreaking havoc on New Orleans’ spacing. Later, Davis, Evans, Gordon, and most recently, Holiday, all followed in Anderson’s injury-laden path. The full potential of the Pelicans thus remains unrealized.
The Pelicans are just a smattering of the the seemingly endless injury plague. Russell Westbrook’s already been taken from us twice, while Derrick Rose and Kobe Bryant left just as swiftly as they returned. Al Horford’s absence furthers the despair of the Eastern Conference. Chris Paul, Marc Gasol, JJ Redick and a host of others have all missed time as well.
What this morose, mundane season has needed for some time now is a savior — and that savior is Durant.
Normally, one would expect this savior to come in the form of a rookie, or at the most a third-year player that’s transcended the realms of promise and potential to that of a star. Or, perhaps, the savior might be a collective — a team that emerges as a new contender, taking the league by unpredicted storm.
Durant, however, is neither of these things. He’s an established super-star, the second-best player in the world on one of the premier teams in the league. All of this is common knowledge. Yet, the Durant that’s decimated the league in recent weeks is unlike any other previous iteration.
As a scorer, Durant employs a terrifying efficiency and ruthless drama. He’s averaging 40 points per game on an absurd 73.5 True Shooting percentage over the past five games. Three of those games were close, and in the last five minutes of those games, with the Thunder ahead or behind by five points, Durant was 5-of-6 from the field and 3-of-3 from deep. The aforementioned drama comes not just in the timing, but the manner of the shot as well.
Against the Trail Blazers, with the Thunder trailing by three with just under three minutes left, Durant uses a Perkins screen to momentarily free himself of Nicolas Batum. However, given Batum’s long-limbed nature, he’s still able to keep an arm in front of Durant. Yet, for Durant, the arm may as well have been non-existent. He rises, his form less than ideal with his knees bent and his torso leaning slightly forward, and drains the three to tie the game.
Nearly the exact same occurrence repeated last night in San Antonio. The shot was at the top of the arc, not to the right, but everything else — from the Perkins screen to Durant’s bent-knee, one-leg-landing-in-front-of-the-other shot — was identical.
So often, Durant’s form is one of minimal effort and fluidity. Breathing may in fact be more difficult to Durant than shooting a basketball. The unorthodox form with which Durant shot those three-pointers against the Spurs and Trailblazers was one of the few times where it appeared as if Durant might actually have expended an iota of effort. Everything contained in those shots was everything previously absent in the season — tension, tragedy, excitement and humanity.
Kevin Durant, by destroying the league, is saving the season.
Statistical support provided by NBA.com/stats