Not long ago, we wondered how any NBA team was supposed to beat the Portland Trail Blazers. Last night, we got our answer: put Kevin Durant on the other team, and make him angry.
The Blazers were their dangerous, attack-you-from-all-angles selves throughout almost the entirety of the game. LaMarcus Aldridge was grabbing rebounds and hitting impossible fall-away shots from the block, Wesley Matthews was hitting jumpers from all over the floor, and Mo Williams swooped in to rescue a semi-cold Damian Lillard with 13 points and nine assists off the bench. But in the end, none of that mattered, because Kevin Durant got pissed off.
With just over 4:00 to play, Durant, already with 35 points on 21 shots, dribbled around a Kendrick Perkins screen on the wing and rose up for an open three-pointer. Nicolas Batum swiped at Durant's arms from behind, getting away with a no-call and forcing a turnover. On the Thunder's next possession, still down 93-90, Durant pushed a one-man fast break and darted down the right side of the lane with a LeBron-esque head of steam, barreling over Damian Lillard. Durant may have lowered his shoulder a bit, but Lillard's feet were definitely moving, and what probably should have been a blocking foul was called as a charge.
Durant screamed at the referee at the other end of the floor and was quickly hit with a technical foul. Lillard missed the tech free-throw while Durant stalked along his own sideline, seething. He exchanged a few more angry words with the nearest official while Aldridge shot two freebies of his own, and got the ball back with 3:45 to play, down 95-90. Kevin Durant was angry, and the Blazers were finished.
The game would end on a 12-2 Thunder run, simply because Kevin Durant could not be stopped. After spending a good 10 seconds of the ensuing possession pleading with big dumb Kendrick Perkins to get him the goddamn ball—seriously Kendrick, did you not see how mad he was? Just get him the ball!—Durant finally got his hands on the rock just in front of half-court line with six seconds on the clock. Five seconds, one crafty crossover, and two gigantic steps later, Durant was gliding past the hoop and softly laying the ball in with his left hand. His next three shots went like this: Pull-up three off a pick-and-roll on the wing; isolation three right in Nicolas Batum's face at the top of the key; pull-up, yeah-fuck-it-I-can't-miss-at-this-point three at the top of the key with Batum's hand in his face and Matthews rushing at his flank. His final tally: 46 points on 17-25 shooting.
After that first three, Durant turned toward the Blazers bench, took out his mouth guard, and shouted what must have been some not-very-nice things at his opponents. The specifics of what Durant said don't really matter, his message was clear: This is what happens when I get angry. After his last three, Durant's anger gave way to laughter. As he returned to the bench to celebrate with his teammates, he just started laughing hysterically.
To watch Kevin Durant these days is to be confronted with a series of absurdities. It's absurd to see a 6-foot-10 small forward bringing the ball up the court and initiating the offense on a good chunk of his team's possessions. It's even more absurd to watch that 6-foot-10 small forward dribble his way into a double team on the left baseline, only to escape it with a quick step-back jumper that never had any chance of touching anything but nylon. It's the height of absurdity to watch that 6-foot-10 small forward win a game against a great team by stepping up to the bumper and casting off the kind of the three-point shots you'd be too scared to take in your own driveway.
Maybe that's why Durant was laughing at the end of the game. In that moment, perhaps he became aware of just how absurd his own existence is.