HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Thunder coach Scott Brooks marvels at the barrage of points, the evolution of the pinpoint passes and all that Kevin Durant does on a basketball court in front of 18,000 people 82 nights a year.
Mostly though, he finds himself blown away by Durant on those days in between, in the gym, working, relentless. No crowds going bananas, no flashing bulbs, no glory. Only guts.
This is when Brooks equates Durant with a certain Super Bowl quarterback.
“Kevin Durant, Peyton Manning,” Brooks said Tuesday night. “You just look at the parallels between the two. They just come in, they do their job every day. They don’t have to tell the world what they do, they just do it every day and it seems to work perfectly fine.”
Durant is the Thunder’s tone-setter on game day and especially so on so-called “off” days.
“I’m just having fun out there,” Durant said Tuesday night after dropping 46 points on the Trail Blazers. He followed up Wednesday night with 36 in a road win over the Spurs. “It’s a player’s game, so every moment I’m on the court is fun for me.”
Lately it’s been a barrel of laughs. Durant has now gone nine consecutive games scoring 30 points or more, a career-best stretch. During the Thunder’s five-game win streak — victories over Golden State, Houston, Sacramento, Portland and now San Antonio — Durant’s all-around dominance borders on mind-boggling: 40.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg and 6.2 apg in 39.1 mpg. He is shooting 59.5 percent overall and 56.3 percent from beyond the arc (for the nitpickers, he’s coughing it up 6.0 times a game).
As Blazers coach Terry Stotts noted after Tuesday’s game, nothing about Durant’s game at the moment is forced. He isn’t ball-hogging. He isn’t chucking. He’s taking what’s given and delivering the entire package with supreme efficiency.
“Kevin, I say this all the time, he doesn’t want to be known as a scorer, and I give him a lot of credit for that,” Brooks said. “Some guys say that but they really, their moods are predicated on how many points they score the night before. Kevin’s not like that. He was equally as happy the next night [after scoring 54 points against Golden State last Friday] when he had nine assists [and 30 points against Sacramento on Sunday].”
Durant, a leading MVP candidate now averaging 31.0 ppg on the season, salted away Wednesday’s win at San Antonio with a pair of late 3s. He did the same thing the night before to bury the Blazers. He went 6-for-7 from deep in that one.
“When he’s shooting the ball well from 3, that opens up a lot for him,” said Nick Collison, Durant’s teammate back to the the franchise’s Seattle days. “He’s unguardable when he’s able to hit 3-point shots.”
After the final dagger against Portland, a straightaway swish, he looked toward a thunderous home bench and seemingly reluctantly, almost bashfully, uncorked a smile.
“You look to the bench and you see your teammates so happy for you, all I could do is smile because I know they’re genuinely happy for me and for the team,” Durant said. “It’s a great feeling just knowing you have a group of brothers out there supporting you no matter what. So that’s what I was smiling for.”
Durant and his team are on quite a roll following a rough patch immediately after the unexpected injury departure of All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook. His projected return remains around the mid-February All-Star Game. While some might have predicted Oklahoma City to drop in the post-Christmas standings without Westbrook, the opposite has occurred: The Thunder sit atop the Western Conference.
They’re 10-5 during this Westbrook-less stretch. Wednesday’s win kicked off a tough seven-game stretch with six on the road. Just don’t expect Durant and Co. to easily crack.
“We just do our job every day,” Brooks said. “I tell our guys, the pressure is to play as hard as you can, play for your teammates. It’s not making shots, it’s not doing anything other; but if you play as hard as you can, play for your teammates, the pressure is that. We’ve always been a team that we just focus on doing our job every day.
“I think all the good teams do that in all sports. The great players do the same thing.”