The only startling part about Kevin Durant‘s Sunday night in Oklahoma City was that his 25 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists against the Warriors marked the first career triple-double in 391 games, despite having all the talent and playing time. That made it a milestone.
The situation as a whole, though, is what made it important.
Not just the 119-109 victory for the Thunder. This is about at least the entire season and probably longer, as OKC adjusts its offense and learns to move forward without James Harden as the No. 2 distributor behind point guard Russell Westbrook.
Durant had been No. 3 and, starting about nine months ago, was earning praise from the Thunder for unselfishly expanding his lethal offense as an improved passer. Turnovers were a problem, and still are, but the message all along has been clear: Facing so many double teams allows the All-Star small forward to find an open man and create shots for others. What a luxury to have.
When Harden was traded to the Rockets, that luxury was dealt, too. OKC suddenly needed Durant to walk the wire better than ever, to get teammates involved while remembering that, oh, yeah, he is Kevin Durant.
“I was a passer,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks, a former point guard, said in the Oklahoman. “I couldn’t make plays. Kevin can make plays. And by doing that he helps our guys get easy shots with his passes. That’s what he’s worked on.”
That is what made Sunday against the Warriors meaningful, much more significant than just being Durant’s first triple-double. It was clean passing, with two turnovers in 39 minutes to briefly counter Durant’s continuing turnover problem. It was the most-tangible sign yet of a shifting game.
As Darnell Mayberry wrote in the Oklahoman:
Durant has sacrificed, both shots and scoring, for the greater good.
Through 11 games he’s averaging 16.5 shots, a career-low that is 0.6 fewer than he attempted as a 19-year-old rookie. His 24.5-point scoring average is the lowest since his rookie year.
Yet his 4.6 assists per game currently are 1.1 per game more than last year’s career best output. That effort has helped the Thunder, which finished dead last in assists per game a year ago, shoot up to the middle of the pack this year with a 22.4 average.
It was one game, with the additional reality-check that Durant has also had three outings this month alone with six turnovers and another one with five. And, he cannot fade too far away from scoring sensation, a development opponents would cheer. But the numbers, on Sunday and for the season, mean something. It means continuing to evolve when adjusting has gone from beneficial to necessary.