Life is hard for Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder without Russell Westbrook. Throw in a missing Serge Ibaka, a rare scoring night from Gordon Hayward and an improving Utah Jazz team, and even a special shooting night from the best scorer in the NBA isn’t enough.
Durant scored 48 points for the second time in four days, although it took him 34 shots (making 14 field goals) to get there, making it to the line 19 times and hitting 17 shots. Durant loves to complain to referees that he doesn’t get the treatment he thinks he deserves, but almost every breath on him in the 101-112 loss to the Jazz was rewarded with a free throw in a game that became very testy in the final quarter.
The Thunder were fighting back, and then Scott Brooks got T’d up as a Jazz fan decided to use a basketball in order to disturb Reggie Jackson while he was on the line. Brooks got the technical, but when the fan attempted to do that again when Durant was on the line, he was prohibited from throwing the basketball in the air. Why is a ball different from the fingers or anything else fans use to disturb players? The NBA has the answer, probably.
But this wasn’t just the Kevin Durant show, despite his 48 points in a one man effort (with some help from Jackson scoring 20 points) to do everything for his team. Gordon Hayward scored a career high 37 points on a 13-of-16 shooting night. He added 11 rebounds and 7 assists, looking like he was enjoying the challenge put up for him to answer from Durant, scoring the final 17 points for the Jazz as they held on to their lead in the final quarter. The last player to score the final 17 points or more for his team was LeBron James for the Heat in a 2012 win over the Nets.
Once you hit a couple of tough ones then the basket starts looking pretty big. You feel like you can almost throw up anything and it will go in. I was in the zone a little bit tonight. It’s finally good to be there. It’s been a rough season shooting for me.
The former Butler player is averaging 17.1 points per game this season and is doing extremely well over the last three, averaging 27 points while shooting 60% from the field. The Jazz have improved to 12-25 (11-15 since Trey Burke started the season) and while they won’t be making the playoffs, they’re more than capable of putting a dent in other team’s runs, just like the Thunder who have enough problems without having to deal with the hot hand of Hayward.
So Durant is playing like mad with Westbrook. He’s averaging 35 points per game since Westbrook was shut down for the foreseeable future, taking 23.3 shots per game. Is that good for the Thunder? The Thunder are 4-3 since Westbrook went down again, and actually look better when Kevin Durant doesn’t pull off his best James Harde / Carmelo Anthony/ Kobe Bryant imitation. Not having Serge Ibaka next to him does provide an incentive to keep shooting, but some point Scott Brooks is going to have to try and do a little bit of coaching that involves getting others involved in the offensive game if they don’t want to be slipping too much from the top of the West.