One of the scariest thing for teams around the NBA is the fact that Kevin Durant is only 24, and he’s only going to get better. Yes, better than 52 points, a career high, while Russell Westbrook adds 31 more to help the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Dallas Mavericks in overtime.
There have been smoother 50+ point games in the history of the NBA. Kevin Durant scored 50 points against the Denver Nuggets just under a year ago with a fantastic 19-28 from the field. This time? He made only 13-31 from the field, mostly relying on a perfect day from the line (21-21) as Shawn Marion didn’t really have a way to stop the best offensive player in the NBA. Last time someone shot so bad and still made 50 points? Only once this has happened in the last 27 years. Guess who? Kobe Bryant, who else, scoring 50 points against the Clippers on a 17-41 night, 0.4% worst than Durant’s shooting night against the Mavericks.
The other special thing was Russell Westbrook getting enough of the ball to score 31 points. The Thunder totaled just 13 assists, in a game that was all about their individual talent and not their ability to play the right kind of basketball. Some easy calls from the referees and the intensity in which they played through overtime helped them come away with the win. Against a better team than the Dallas Mavericks, this probably wouldn’t have been enough. Durant and Westbrook are the last tandem to have a 50 points scorer be joined by someone with more than 30, in that same Nuggets game: Durant scoring 51, Westbrook adding 40.
It was a rough shooting night from the Thunder (41.1% from the field), as Kevin Martin made only 3-10 from the field. Offensive rebounding, getting 18 of them, including 7 from Ibaka (out of his 14 total) were the big key, including winning the ball by tipping it in the air three times in overtime, inside a forest of Mavericks players, eventually falling into the hands of Kevin Durant, giving the Thunder a 112-110 lead with 2:07 left in the game. Mike James hit a big three to give the Mavericks the lead again, but Durant wasn’t losing on a career night: At 114-114, Durant roughed his way into the basket and made a tough shot above Shawn Marion, giving the Thunder a 116-114 lead, 16.9 second left on the clock. They wouldn’t drop the ball this time.
The Mavs’ winning streak is over, but some losses are easier to swallow. After all, the Thunder, bitter rivals for the past few years, taking the place of the Mavs at the or near the top of the Western Conference, are the team with the best record in the NBA at 32-8. Dirk Nowitzki is once again the most important player on the floor, but when he shoots only 5-19 from the field (18 points) on 41 minutes, there’s not much hope for this team to win, even if Vince Carter scores 29 off the bench.
This is what the Thunder have that other teams don’t. It may say something about Scott Brooks not being a great X’s and O’s coach, but it says a lot about the fight the Thunder have in them, and more than anything, the individual talent that makes them better than almost anyone, even when playing a bad game of basketball.