Say someone were to ask you to imagine the perfect basketball player. What would that guy look like? He’d be tall, at least 6-foot-11. He’d be able to shoot from anywhere on the floor, handle the ball like a much smaller player, and be equally capable of jumping over or gliding through any defenders in his way. He’d be a rebounder, a rim-protector, and capable of defending multiple positions. He’d never miss a free throw and he’d never get tired.
Now try to imagine what it would look like if that perfect basketball player managed to play the perfect basketball game. Would you be able to come up with something that looks any different than what Kevin Durant did in Game 5 of the Nets’ second-round series against the Bucks last night?
Durant finished a game in which he played every single minute with 49 points, 17 rebounds, and 10 assists. He all but singlehandedly erased a 16-point third-quarter deficit, and did so without any assistance from Kyrie Irving, who didn’t play due to injury, or James Harden, who spent the game jogging around on a bad hamstring and shot 1-of-10 from the field. Durant scored 20 points in the fourth quarter alone, falling just two points shy of outscoring the Bucks’ entire roster in the frame. Toss in the three steals and two blocks he earned on the defensive end, and you’ve got yourself a signature, potentially career-defining playoff performance.
Durant’s never really had one of these before. That feels kind of weird to say about a guy who has been to the playoffs in 10 seasons and won two championships, but it’s true. There were playoff games in Oklahoma City where he’d have to dispatch some team like the Grizzlies all by himself because Russell Westbrook was hurt, and there were times in Golden State when he’d shine a little bit brighter than Klay Thompson or Steph Curry and go head-to-head with the likes of LeBron James. But last night was the first time Durant went into a high-stakes playoff game and controlled every single thing about it from the first minute until the last, because he had to. The moment was his and his alone, and at some point in the second half it became clear that nothing—not PJ Tucker running around like an ornery pit bull, not James Harden farting away huge chunks of the shot clock down the stretch, not Giannis Antetokounmpo doing whatever the hell it is he’s doing these days—was going to stop Durant from winning the game.
Durant didn’t need a game like this to convince anyone that he is one of the greatest players to ever wear a uniform. People aren’t that stupid. But it was nice to be reminded just how deep his well of talent goes, and how much of it he can still reach for when necessary. Durant’s post-OKC career has been defined by his ability to seamlessly fit himself onto teams that employ multiple other superstars. The fact that he has done this so successfully is not a knock on his talent—it in fact is further proof that a more perfectly constructed and attuned basketball player may not exist—but it has reduced Durant’s opportunities to seize individual glory.
One of those rare opportunities came along last night, and anyone who got to see Durant grab it and run with it should count themselves lucky. He’s 32, he’s coming off a devastating Achilles injury, and who knows how many more games in his career will be played without at least one future Hall-of-Famer by his side. But last night he was all alone, and he was great enough to fill an infamously sleepy Brooklyn arena with the sounds of a rabid college crowd. They should put his jersey in the rafters for that alone.