On Monday, a day after a disappointing loss to the Brooklyn Nets, Thunder forward Kevin Durant had something to say about his team’s offensive philosophy, which is routinely critiqued for being too stagnant and isolation-heavy.
“Look, we’re not the San Antonio Spurs,” Durant said. “We’re not going to make 30 passes in a possession. We’re not that. Of course, people want us to be that. That’s great basketball, don’t get me wrong. But we’re not that. We’ve got guys that can score. We’ve got two guys on this team that can get a bucket. There’s going to be times we gotta iso, there’s going to be times we gotta be aggressive to look for our shot to make a play.
“But basketball is simple when you got a guy that can get into the paint. That’s what San Antonio wants to do, but they’ve got guys, multiple guys that’ll pass, pass, dribble, to get to the paint,” he continued. “But we’ve got guys — Russell, myself, Dion [Waiters], Cameron Payne — we can get into the paint, kick out or dump down for a layup. That’s ultimately what you want: get the defense off balance, drive, kick, make the right play — simple basketball. But we just don’t make five or six passes before we do it sometimes. And that’s not a knock against us, I don’t think. We’ve got dynamic guys that can play and do different things on the floor; I think that’s to your advantage.”
I was thinking about that quote a lot while watching the Thunder beat the Knicks 128-122 in overtime at MSG last night. It was the first time I’d ever seen the Thunder in person, and what struck me was Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s pronounced physical dominance over the game. You see this on TV, too, but it’s almost overwhelming from inside the arena. Both are so strong and fast and big that they seem to literally shrink the court, making Spursian, pass-happy basketball feel like a stupid waste of everyone’s time.
Take the end of last night’s fourth quarter, for example. The Carmelo Anthony-less Knicks were scrapping—grinding out possessions that all seemed to end in either Arron Afflalo jack-hammering his way into the post for a turnaround jumper or Langston Galloway hitting a bail-out three. Every point felt as hard-won as a marathoner’s final mile.
Meanwhile, Durant and Westbrook were gliding and bursting on the other end, scoring buckets at will. With the score tied at 104 and under three minutes to play, Durant did this:
From 20 rows away, Durant looked like a kid casually striding across his bedroom to dunk on his Nerf hoop. He’d go on to hit a three that looked like it was released two miles above the defender’s hand on the next possession, and he’d tie the game up with an easy pin-down jumper on the Thunder’s last shot of regulation. This was followed by Arron Afflalo once again banging away in the post for what felt like 45 minutes before firing up a shot that was never going in.
The point is this: As attractive as the Spurs’ and Warriors’ brands of basketball are, it would be silly to ask Westbrook and Durant to put themselves into that box. This isn’t to say that the Thunder couldn’t use a little more ball movement from time to time, but why screw around when you can just hand the ball to one of the two first-team all-NBA players on the court and ask them to go get a bucket? It may aggravate the aesthetes and purists, but Durant finished with 44-14-5, Westbrook went for 30-10-8, and the Thunder walked out of MSG with a win.