The Hawks led by eight entering the fourth quarter against the Thunder on Monday night and by as many as 14 in the third quarter, but it never mattered. It never felt safe. There was never true optimism, only waiting for the inevitable — waiting for Durant to happen.
There are few players in the NBA that can elicit this feeling from a team’s fan-base. The feeling that no matter the score, no matter the time, if he is on the court the run is coming. The run that breaks your team’s heart, filled with cold-blooded threes and impossible pull-ups over multiple defenders. You watch in angst trying to understand how someone can be that good.
Jordan was that good. Kobe was that good. LeBron is that good. Durant is that good.
The arena has a different feel when those players are on the court. An excitement and a buzz fill the crowd as they wait for their moment to erupt. A fast-break dunk, a chase-down block, a pull-up three-pointer, something — anything — to let them turn inward anticipation into outward emotion.
There are a few players that live on the edge of this realm. Carmelo Anthony, Steph Curry, and Dirk Nowitzki all can make opposing fans cringe. They can light up an arena with the best of them. “M-V-P” chants will cascade down on them during free throw attempts, and if the crowd is lucky enough, the game will be close at the end to give them what they want. The opportunity for a huge fourth quarter, or even better, a game-winner and the chance for that rare moment where that player – their player — can lift them up and demoralize the opposition.
At this point though, there are two that stand above the rest, fittingly the two top players in the NBA — James and Durant. LeBron — who was long ridiculously labeled “not clutch” — has ripped the hearts out of many a fan during his reign as King of the NBA. Durant now creates the same kind of fear and anticipation.
The only word to describe watching Durant go to work on your team is helpless — likely the same feeling those defending him have. The outcome seems inevitable; the heartbreak almost certain. The grace with which he moves around the court makes it seem effortless, almost tame, but at the same time he’s ruthless.
Sometimes, these players are kind enough not to offer any hope and put the hammer down from the start. This is almost preferred because the fleeting hope is the worst part.
On this particular night, the Thunder gave the Hawks hope. The Thunder led 2-0 and then were behind until they a 109-107 in the final minutes. The Hawks looked in control for the majority of the game, but we all knew better. He was coming and it was just a matter of time.
Durant scored 13 in the fourth including the Thunder’s last seven points and finished with 41 points on the night — his 11th consecutive game with 30 or more points. At seven-feet tall, he is practically unguardable in a one-on-one situation, and, as the Hawks learned, at times he’s unguardable even when you put three defenders on him. With the game tied and the clock winding down, the Thunder gave Durant the ball and let him work in isolation. Even as the Hawks sent two help defenders for poor DeMarre Carroll, Durant rose, fired, and buried the jumper. (h/t Zach Harper, CBS Sports)
The lesson as always: KD is not nice.