While the Knicks fan in me really wanted to watch a matchup with cross-town BK rivals, for a true NBA fan there was only one game on last night. Kevin Durant returning from injury and making his season debut. Last year’s Most Valuable Player taking on this year’s anointed King of Basketball, Anthony Davis in New Orleans. LET THE MVP BATTLE COMMENCE!!
As the commenting crew pointed out, KD was quick to get into the action. Scott Brooks involved the MVP on the first play of the game, designing a curling cut around a Kendrick Perkins screen to give Durant a shot only 9 seconds into the game. He missed that one, but after getting to the line and watching a FT go in, KD took off. For the entire game, he reminded me again and again and AGAIN about how he remains the most unstoppable scorer in the game. Knocked down a 3 on the very next position, took the ball all the way downcourt in a one man fast break, even showed off an impossible Dirk step-back right next to the basket. The only notable miss was a HUGE 3 pointer down the stretch that would have brought the Thunder within 5 with about a minute left. However, if you look at the fact that KD played nearly 30 minutes in his return and scored 27 points on 9-18 shooting, I think people can forgive the miss a little.
Or can they? The Thunder have been barely treading water all season long, waiting for the return of their superstars. Russell Westbrook had a huge coming out party against the Knicks on Friday, going for 32 points and a near triple-double (the announcing crew likened this to a restaurant’s “soft opening” as the idea of any Knick guard containing Russ is pretty laughable. Or cryable, depending on where you stand.) and with Kevin Durant back, this was supposed to be the Thunder’s chance to hit that next gear. Instead, they entered the game down 4.5 games, left it down 5.5, looking up at the Pelicans sitting at .500. (Actually, looking up at every team in the Western Conference that is not pulling a total tank show)
So, why did they lose? It wouldn’t be too difficult to point to Westbrook’s 6-20 shooting night as further evidence of these stars’ inability to coexist (shuttup Westbrook haters). You could also look at the fact that the Thunder were the 4th best defensive team in the league while their stars were out, holding opponents to 93 PPG (the Pelicans went for 112). You could look at the awkwardness of forcing the MONSTER Reggie Jackson to the bench for Westbrook’s gross shooting night (despite the fact that Jackson carried this team in his absence).
Or you could look at Anthony Davis. Davis finished the night with 25 points (8-15 shooting), 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks, and 6 steals. Yeah. WHO’S THE MVP NOW??? Seriously I have never seen such a dominant performance come in such a quiet way. Davis can play possessions looking almost invisible on the court, a tall skinny body somewhat out of position, until you realize he’s 20 feet from the basket because he can knock down shots from there. Or hanging out 15 feet away on the weak side on defense because he can close that distance CRAZY-QUICK and stuff the crap out of whoever is stupid enough to take it to the rim. He’s the weirdest example of someone just quietly putting together video game stat lines, in the right place at the right time to roll to the basket or grab a rebound, until he decides to go MONSTROUS on someone (here ruining Kendrick Perkins’ day) and remind everyone why he is the single best player on the court. Seriously. I get that the MVP should be able to take his team to the playoffs, but at this point there is no single player I would rather have on my fictional basketball team (we’re 14-3 in that league).
As for the Thunder, this shouldn’t be all that devastating. Its a little upsetting that they didn’t get a feel-good victory for Durant’s return, but this doesn’t change anything all too dramatically. They are still only a handful of games out of the hunt for the playoffs (and should be everyone’s favorite team for a first round upset). They also have a lovely East Coast road trip coming up where, if they can play hard against Lebron and the Cavs, they have a very realistic chance of going 5-0 or 4-1. So don’t get disappointed Thunder Heads, because your boys are still very much in the hunt. Just get disappointed cus KD may be saying goodbye to that Hardware this season.