For all the talk from detractors that Kevin Durant’s spirit animal is a slithering, cold-blooded reptile — and make no mistake, Durant is indeed cold-blooded — his spirit animal should entirely be something else.
Durant is a shark. For once he smells blood, he tirelessly hunts down his prey, closes in, then kills without mercy.
Against the New York Knicks, Durant smelled blood, went into hunter mode, and eventually killed the Knicks’ hopes of scoring an upset against the defending champions.
Durant is also a shark of another variety — a living, breathing, and walking version of the GameShark. For those who do not know what a GameShark is — or is too young to have missed that era of video games — a GameShark is a device that enabled cheats on game consoles, such as the PlayStation and the Nintendo 64 (but if you also don’t know what those are, then I succumb to the admission of being old). Basically, a GameShark made games extremely easy to play and beat.
In the same manner, Durant — the human cheat code — makes basketball games look extremely easy to play, and his scoring allows the Warriors to avoid scenarios in which they may have lost had Durant not been there.
Coming into this game against the Knicks, Durant was — as expected — asked about his free-agency intentions, and what he thought of the Knicks’ not-so-subtle attempt at wooing him, courtesy of a billboard that included his likeness. Perhaps with something to prove, Durant came into Friday’s game intending to provide a show to New York fans, as if teasing them with a taste of something they may probably never have.
And he showed plenty.
Durant’s first quarter
For the Warriors’ first points of the game, Durant gets the ball deep along the baseline, and rises up for the easy jumper. Durant is hard to cover at any point of the floor, but the chances of stopping him dwindle as he gets closer to the basket.
In the following possession, Durant and Klay Thompson cross-screen for each other. In the same way that Curry and Durant or Curry and Thompson often screen for each other, this action can easily throw off the defense, especially ones that like to switch often. Additionally, Draymond Green screens for a popping Durant, and the defender is forced to close out desperately on him. Durant simply dribbles in and rises up for the easy bucket.
For Durant’s final bucket of the first quarter, he gets a bit of help from Damian Jones, who does a good job of getting his hands on the ball for the steal. Durant runs ahead and gets the pass, and as pretty much everyone knows, stopping Durant in the open court is like trying to search for a needle in a haystack.
Durant’s second quarter
Durant has always been characterized as a tall, yet lanky player — someone who can easily be pushed or thrown around like a piñata being beaten by a stick. On the contrary, he has deceptive upper-body strength — not on the same level of LeBron James, mind you — but enough strength to make shots despite taking strong bumps, like the one he took during his first basket of the second quarter.
Going into this game, Durant had been struggling from beyond the arc — 4-of-16, to be exact, good for 25% and well below his career average of 38.3%. But despite slumps and cold spells, shooters still shoot, and scorers still score. Durant still pulls up for the three and buries it; just like that, his three-point slump becomes a thing of the immediate past.
Again, Durant is a transition monster, worthy of being mentioned alongside LeBron James — give him the space and the lane, and he will step on the gas pedal, regardless of whether there is someone in his path or no one. His long strides enable him to cover a huge amount of distance in a short amount of time, and his long arms allow him to extend well beyond what most players can contest or block.
The Warriors employ a lot of options in their free-flowing offense. When one option is shut down, they go into another option; when that option is also shut down, they flow right next into yet another option. But what happens if all options are shut down? It’s quite simple: let the best one-one scorer in the league do his thing.
A cross-screen under the basket between Durant and Stephen Curry has the intention of switching Durant onto Curry’s much smaller defender, but that doesn’t happen. When Durant receives the ball on the wing, Klay Thompson tries to get open on a flare screen by Andre Iguodala, and then tries to cut toward the basket, but it is well defended by the Knicks. The Warriors go into their last option, which also happens to be the ultimate last option.
Durant’s fourth quarter
Durant did not score in the third quarter, during which the Warriors were down by as much 10 points. In a period that they usually dominate, the Warriors’ tendency to play down to their opponent’s level reared its atrocious head.
By the end of the third quarter, the Warriors managed to whittle down the deficit to three — but it was clear that they had to give much more effort than what they were showing for three quarters, against a team they should be blowing out of the building.
In the fourth quarter, Durant answered the call to arms, and the Warriors whipped out their GameShark.
Cheat code activated.
Much like how Curry transformed into Johnny Storm and activated his Human Torch mode, Durant himself ascended into a state of being that only a select few have experienced in the NBA, including his fellow MVP teammate. Once the rest of the team sensed that Durant could not be stopped, they kept feeding him the ball — a plethora of high pick-and-rolls, back screens, clear-out isolation possessions, and pull-up threes were the strokes and thrusts of the sword that was Kevin Durant.
By the time the carnage was over, Durant had scored 25 points in a span of ten minutes. What was once a three-point lead by the Knicks after the third quarter turned into a twenty-eight-point destruction by the Warriors. The Knicks tried to play the game, and against all odds, managed to get to the final stage, against the final boss.
But at the last minute, the final boss activated the human cheat code.
Six down, 76 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.