Kevin Durant's been hunting for poster victims pretty much all season long. We've seen him ring up Toronto Raptors rookie Jonas Valanciunas, go end-to-end to throw one down on Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith, turn a blocked shot into a vicious slam on Dallas Mavericks big man Chris Kaman and just miss a supreme detonation on Brooklyn Nets reserve Andray Blatche. It's almost like the Oklahoma City Thunder star entered this season saying, "Yeah, it's kind of cool being the best scorer alive, a legitimate threat to join the 50-40-90 club and a rising MVP candidate on a perennial title contender, but what I'd really like to do is make sure everybody knows that I'm one of the league's most ferocious in-game dunkers, too."
Well, KD, we get it. And now, in the unlikely event he didn't before, so does Phoenix Suns center Marcin Gortat:
While we're going to focus on the very loud ending to this fourth-quarter play, don't sleep on its start — as Vancouver-based coach and analyst Doug Eberhardt noted, the hesitation dribble that Durant uses to summarily shake longtime friend Michael Beasley at the top of the key was just as filthy as the finish. I guess we can add "tightened up his lefty handle" to the list of things the 24-year-old Thunder forward has improved this year.
“Well, first of all, I was looking for my car keys under the basket,” Gortat said. “I was trying to find my car keys because I lost them over there, so I was just looking for it. And Michael Beasley is going to get Krispy Kremes for the rest of the season, for sure, for me.
“It happens. The funny thing is that when [Kendrick] Perkins was standing under the basket he looked at me and I looked at him, and he said, ‘I know how it feels.’ He said, ‘Guards left you on the island, huh?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’
“Listen, it happens. I am not going to deny that was probably the top three dunks of the year, right? I mean, at least, I am going to be out there. I mean, I am just going to try to be silly about it. I am not going to cry. It is just part of the game.
“When he took off off one foot, I didn’t even lift my hands up, I already knew what was going to happen. I just tried to get out of the picture, or at least smile. It was bad defense, and then bad rotation, bad help. You can’t do anything.”
"Bad Defense, and Then Bad Rotation, Bad Help." It might not be the most rousing slogan, but it seems pretty accurate for a team that's giving up the league's fifth most points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com's stat tool.
The dunk and subsequent free throw capped a 41-point night for Durant — his fourth 40-plus-point game of the season, tying him with Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers for most in the NBA this year — on 15 for 30 shooting from the field. That's just the fourth time in 461 combined regular- and postseason games that Durant has attempted 30 or more field goals, according to Basketball-Reference.com. KD also kicked in five rebounds, two assists and two blocks without turning the ball over in nearly 43 minutes of play; 40-plus points without a turnover was a first for Durant, a rad ESPN Research stat provided by baseball reporter Buster Olney (duh).
Durant's 41 led all scorers, but he got plenty of help from running buddy Russell Westbrook, who poured in 36 points on a very efficient 14 for 24 shooting, snared eight rebounds, dished five dimes and coughed it up just once in 36 minutes. As Royce Young wrote at Daily Thunder, Westbrook found a rhythm with his jumper early and wound up 7 for 13 on shots taken outside the paint; the UCLA product isn't always money from midrange, but when he is, the Thunder are awfully tough to beat.
Despite the big nights from OKC's dynamic duo, Phoenix hung around into the fourth quarter, trailing by only five with under seven minutes remaining; KD and Russ then combined on a 15-4 run over a 4 1/2-minute stretch, capped by the Durant facial on Gortat, to put the game out of reach. All told, the duo combined for 47 of OKC's 51 second-half points; after the game, Gortat told reporters, "We basically lost to Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant." Well, on nights like Monday, it's kind of hard not to.