Thursday, January 30, 2014

KD - Kevin Durant's Monster Performance -vs- LBJ - LeBron James, His Adversary

Kevin Durant puts on MVP show vs. LeBron James, Heat
by Sam Amick

MIAMI — About an hour before Kevin Durant would send the sort of statement not often seen in NBA regular season play, the Oklahoma City Thunder star wasn't talking about the MVP race or the potential NBA Finals rematch or anything remotely involving the game of basketball.

He was discussing the snow flurries in Atlanta, marveling at what it would be like to be stuck on icy freeways for hours upon end in a seemingly powerless state. Some three hours later, the cold-blooded Durant and his Thunder had put the Miami Heat through an ice storm of a whole different kind that yielded similar results.

DURANT: Completely took over showdown

The Heat were frozen solid on Wednesday night at American Airlines Arena, where a 112-95 loss on their home floor should be more than enough to send shivers down their two-time defending champion spines. Oklahoma City is now 14-5 since losing All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook to his latest knee surgery last month, and the complementary pieces who have grown in his absence showed yet again why this whole experience could make them even more dangerous when Westbrook returns in February.

KD set to rise against D-Wade
Yet for all the justifiable hype coming in, this wasn't the superstar showdown that so many assumed it would be. There were a few minutes of dazzling back and forth late in the third quarter, with Durant and James trading circus shots to the amazement and appreciation of an otherwise-bewildered Heat crowd. Durant's edge in the MVP race certainly grew on this night, as he finished with 33 points (on 12 of 23 shooting), seven rebounds and five assists to James' 34 (12 of 20), three and three. There was even an MVP chant that came with the Heat trailing by 24 points in the middle of the fourth quarter that was puzzling because, well, it almost seemed as if the Heat faithful may have been honoring the visiting team's star.

It was, as Durant would later explain, a scene straight out of New York City's famed Rucker Park that even the most ardent of Heats fans had to appreciate.

"My teammates, they just gave me the ball and told me to go, to make a play," said Durant, who extended his streak of 30-plus point games to 12 against the team that downed the Thunder in the 2012 Finals. "(James) got hot for a quick second and I had to come and make an answer. But it was fun. I'm sure the fans got what they wanted to see, but we would rather play a team game."

Said James: "He was matching shots (and) keeping them up big and I was just trying to get us back in the game. It is a fun competition. It's been a while since I've been able to do something like that."

And therein lies the beauty of the league's top two players.

Entertaining though it may have been to slug it out with a fellow superstar, they didn't get their teams to this respective point by being singularly focused on scoring. So it was, then, that this mano-y-mano showdown only lasted so long. And in this season in which Durant's ability to be the rising tide that lift all boats is precisely why he may keep James from winning his fifth Maurice Podoloff trophy, he took part in something bigger than himself that was nothing short of astounding.

Having lost to the Heat six consecutive times coming in, the Thunder recovered from a 22-4 early deficit to lead by five at halftime. Oklahoma City hit 16 of 27 three-pointers (13 from Durant, Jeremy Lamb and Derek Fisher) and turned 21 forced turnovers into 25 points. And whether Heat coach Erik Spoelstra got it right when he said his team was "outclassed" or not, there was no disputing the fact that it was dominating performance.

"They beat us good," James said. "Outclassed? I don't know if I'm going to go that far, but they came in and beat us pretty good."

Said forward Chris Bosh: "I'd have to respectfully disagree (with Spoelstra). Sometimes you get your (expletive) whooped."

That they did.

The Thunder did it mostly with players that most of America has likely never heard of. And that, more than anything, spoke volumes about how dynamic this Thunder bunch has become. —

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