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Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant is widely acknowledged as one of the two best players in the NBA, a uniquely versatile and talented scorer with the ability to change a game with his mere presence. Yet, in the past several weeks, Durant has elevated his game to a new level of greatness. He's carrying the Thunder through a rough period without Russell Westbrook, scoring in a way no others can match, and is now the favorite to win his first Most Valuable Player award.
On Tuesday night, Durant dismantled the visiting Portland Trail Blazers in a notable battle of two of the West's top three teams. Durant's final line was incredible: 46 points on 16-of-24 shooting and 6-of-7 from three-point range, plus five rebounds and four assists. But the truly awesome stretch took place from 3:23 to 0:26 in the fourth quarter, when the Thunder went on a 15-0 run that included 11 points from Durant on a trio of three-pointers and one tough driving lay-up. That turned a 95-90 deficit into a 105-95 lead, with a late Damian Lillard lay-up making it an eventual 105-97 win for OKC.
Durant's 46 points continued the greatest scoring stretch we're likely to see in the NBA this season. As noted by ESPN, Durant now has games of 54, 48, 48, and 46 points in the last 18 days ... and those are also the four highest marks for any player in 2013-14. Tuesday's game was Durant's eighth straight of 30 points or more, which is the third-longest streak of the last six years for any player and one game off Durant's career-best run. Durant also has 30 points in 12 of his last 14 games. (It's also a little funny that all this is happening during a time when Durant has said he wants to shoot less.)
In the wake of Tuesday's game, Durant's opponents couldn't even get upset at his dominance. Here's Nicolas Batum, who guarded Durant the majority of his 38 minutes:
Nic Batum played w a broken L middle finger because opponent was KD. On KD going for 46, Batum shrugged, said: "He's the MVP."
— Jeff Caplan (@Caplan_NBA) January 22, 2014
Blazers bench guard Earl Watson had a look of simultaneous disappointment and awe:
Even LeBron James, who had his own game against the Boston Celtics in Miami tonight, had heard of Durant's exploits:
I tried to tell LeBron what Durant's stat were tonight. He already knew, interrupted me/w every # of his 46-point effort
— Michael Wallace (@WallaceNBA_ESPN) January 22, 2014
Yet these stats and reactions don't communicate the full experience of watching Durant right now. While Durant has been a tremendous offensive player for some time now, he has recently elevated his game to a level we typically reserve for the greatest players of all time. He's taking on a massive scoring load, doing so with efficiency, and reserving his best play for when the game is on the line. These are the memorable performances that build an MVP candidacy, and it will be fascinating to see if (and/or how) Durant tops them.
Given how amazing he's been over the past few weeks, it's easy to imagine that he can do so. While the context is very different, Durant's recent run inspires flashbacks to his lone season at Texas, when his euphoric, awe-inspiring hot streaks made him a national name. The difference, of course, is that he's taken on more responsibility and plays against far superior competition. Put simply, there's no one in basketball at Durant's level right now. Until further notice, every Thunder game is appointment television.
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