Sports

If Kevin Durant Is the Best Player in the World, He’ll Get to Prove it Against the Rockets

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 26:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors smiles at his bench in a 129-110 win over the LA Clippers during Game Six of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on April 26, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
Kevin Durant put up 50 against the Clippers on April 26 in Los Angeles. Harry How/Getty Images

The only knock you can make on Kevin Durant’s 50-point performance against the Los Angeles Clippers is that Golden State needed to play a Game 6 in order for it to happen. The Warriors lost as many home games in this first-round series (two) as they did during their previous two postseason runs combined, and the extra work of Friday’s 129-110 victory took its toll. While Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson both suffered—and played through—ankle injuries, Durant took control of the offense and tested the endurance of the Staples Center’s scorekeeper.

Durant scored 38 before halftime, which tied an NBA playoff record for most points in a single half. He was as efficient as he was prolific, and it only took him 26 shots to reach his final tally of 50 points. It was the kind of performance where the numbers themselves make for jaw-dropping highlights, but the actual highlights are worth watching, too.

Seven-footers aren’t supposed to be that nimble, and Durant scored with the ease of a retirement home orderly retrieving a blanket from a moderately high shelf. It looked so effortless that I was relieved to see him out of breath during the halftime interview, if only for the sake of his opponents’ pride. “We tried everything,” Clippers guard Lou Williams said after the game. “Sometimes, you come across special people and it doesn’t matter what you send to them.”

“That was one of the great performances I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’ve seen some good ones,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said after the game. Kerr called Durant “the best player in the world,” and the forward won’t have to wait long to justify that praise. Golden State’s next series, against the Houston Rockets, starts on Sunday.

No team has come closer than the Rockets to toppling the Warriors during the Durant era. They pushed Golden State to a Game 7 in last year’s Western Conference Finals before succumbing to one of the coldest (and oddest) shooting performances in postseason history (7-for-44 from beyond the arc). If you believe luck manifests itself in broad, pendular swings, then Curry and Thompson’s ankle injuries probably look pretty significant. Both players are expected to play in Game 1, but they were clearly hobbled against the Clippers on Friday so expect Durant to be tasked with much of the heavy lifting. For at least the immediate future, Golden State will be his team.

Despite winning two consecutive Finals MVP trophies, Durant has been something of an adjunct superstar during his tenure with the Warriors. He’s been the plus-one to their party, and this has helped fuel rumors of his imminent departure during free agency this summer. Some league insiders are treating this as a foregone conclusion, meaning all that’s left to determine is whether or not Durant leaves as a champion. That, like everything else related to the Warriors at the moment, is completely up to him.