By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — It’s kind of understandable why Toronto Raptors guard Greivis Vasquez would compare MVP frontrunner Kevin Durant to Jesus after the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar capped a 51-point, 12-rebound, seven-assist effort with a long-range, game-winning 3-pointer in the final two seconds of double overtime.
Walk on water is about all Durant didn’t do.
Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson, who plays against Durant four times every season as a Northwest Division foe, offers probably a more relatable comparison.
“He’s doing things that haven’t been seen since Michael Jordan,” Lawson told NBA.com.
He’s right. On several fronts this season, Durant is flying in the rare air of His Airness. Take Durant’s stat-stuffer at Toronto on March 21 that so awed Vasquez. No player had reached such totals in a single game since Jordan in 1991-92. Instantly rave reviews flooded the Internet and highlight reels were posted to YouTube for all to be bedazzled by Durant’s array of crossovers, spin moves, floaters and every other move that should be darn-near impossible for a darn-near 7-footer to put down on the floor.
“Coming from where I come from in D.C., all you did was dribble the ball a lot, all these different crossovers, these different moves, so that’s where I kind of learned it from,” Durant would say a week later during a stop in Dallas. “Me being so tall, I got a way from it, I played below the basket up until I got to the league almost, so I had to kind of work on it again and bring it back. I’ve been working on it these last few years and I’m having the confidence to try to pull those moves off…”
Then Durant, so caught up in humility, go figure, got all self-deprecating.
“And most of the time,” he demurred, “I turn it over or I throw the turnover after I crossover, I do something that’s not right.”
Durant is now on the cusp of another Jordan moment. On Jan. 5, with point guard Russell Westbrook little more than a week into his extended absence due to knee surgery, Durant scored 21 points in a breezy 27 minutes in a win against Boston. It remains the last time he’s scored fewer than 25 points in a game. Durant can make it 39 in a row of 25 points or more tonight when the Thunder play a critical game in the chase for the No. 1 seed against the San Antonio Spurs (8 ET, TNT). If he does it, Durant can tie Jordan’s modern-day streak of 40, which he accomplished twice (1986-87 and ’88), on Friday night at Houston (9:30 ET, ESPN).
Before Jordan, a streak of greater length dates back a half-century to Oscar Robertson‘s 47 in 1963-64. Before that, Wilt Chamberlain went an astonishing 106 consecutive games in 1961-62.
But back to doing things that haven’t been done since MJ. Here’s another: Durant, averaging by far a league-best 32.2 ppg (51.2 percent shooting overall, 41.2 percent from 3-point range), 7.6 rpg and 5.7 apg, is on pace to be the first player to average at least 30 points, five rebounds and five assists while shooting 50 percent from the floor since, yep, Jordan in 1991-92.
“He’s starting to make tougher and tougher shots and making it look easy,” Lawson said. “From the 3-point line it looks effortless, post-up game, he’s adding little things to his game. This year he’s adding assists, finding players. Like the stretch when Russell was out, he was playing, I think, out of his mind. He ’s just playing at a really high level.”
When Westbrook was out from just after Christmas through the All-Star break, Durant averaged 35.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg and 6.3 apg while shooting 52.7 percent overall and 39.9 percent from beyond the arc as the focal point of every defense he faced. The Thunder went 20-7 and Durant’s MVP campaign was in full bloom.
“He’s a great player, he does it all, rebounds, gets assists, he scores the ball, he can do whatever he wants on the floor,” Thunder wing Jeremy Lamb said. “Late in games he pulls it out for us, makes clutch shots. Amazing.”
With or without Westbrook, Durant, tied for second in the league with DeMar DeRozan in logging 38.4 mpg, has revealed new ways to make himself an unstoppable force. With less than two weeks to go in the regular season, it’s practically inarguable that he will win his first MVP trophy. If he does, it will be the second time that LeBron James, a four-time winner, will fall just short of becoming the first player to win three consecutive MVP titles since, no, not MJ, but Larry Bird from 1983-86.
And if there’s still a speck of doubt, there is one more no-one’s-done-that-since MJ tidbit. Durant, the Western Conference player of the month four times in the season’s first five months, averaged 34.5 ppg in March. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Durant is the first player to average 33 points or more in three successive months since, you guessed it, Jordan in 1989-90.
So when Vasquez said of Durant, “He’s like Jesus in this league,” maybe he simply expects him to walk on water.
He’s doing everything else.