Kevin Durant scored a game-high 32 points and recorded his fifth career triple-double. He was aided Saturday night by Serge Ibaka (25 points), who's seen here hugging Durant. (USA Today Images)
All things considered, Sixers’ coach Brett Brown doesn’t think his team did a bad job defending Kevin Durant. And maybe, when put into the perspective of what the Oklahoma City All-Star has done on the court recently, Brown's actually right.
Heading into the Sixers’ 103-91 loss at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night (see Instant Replay), Durant averaged 41.5 points over his last four games. He also scored 30-plus in nine straight before missing the Thunder’s last game with a sprained shooting shoulder.
One night after he sat out, Durant and the Thunder cruised, grabbing the lead in the second quarter, building it to double digits, and holding onto it even after the Sixers climbed to within four points in the third quarter. The Thunder rolled even though they shot 4 for 21 from three-point range and allowed the Sixers to grab 19 offensive rebounds (see 6 observations).
So when Durant posted 32 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists on 12 for 17 shooting, the Sixers really did hold their own against him -- scary as that may be.
“We go into halftime and at the end of the game, I thought we did a pretty good job against him,” Brown said. “We tried. We have small guys chasing him around and denying him and fronting him and he has everyone scared because he’s Kevin Durant. He’s so long and scores in a variety of ways and he’s the NBA’s hardest player. He always has been an incredibly difficult player to guard.
“I thought our guys were great. But you blink and he’s got a triple-double.”
Yes, Durant has been so good lately that a 32-point night and his fifth career triple-double is deemed rather ordinary. However, the part about Durant’s game that made the Sixers take notice was the 10 assists. The All-Star averages a little more than five per game, so to amp it up to double digits while still pouring in 30-plus makes the performance stand out.
Not only was Durant getting his own shots, he also was getting them for his teammates.
“The thing that’s starting to separate him now is he’ll go out and get five or six assists. Tonight it was 10,” said Evan Turner, who had 15 points and a team-high six assists. “He starting to make his teammates better and that’s making it tougher to guard him.”
One of those teammates was Serge Ibaka. Typically, Ibaka gets his hands on the ball by cleaning the glass and blocking shots. Saturday’s game was no different, with Ibaka blocking five shots, altering at least twice that amount, and pulling down 11 boards.
But Ibaka has also developed a nice touch from outside the paint as he buried 12 of 16 shots for 25 points.
Durant is the straw that stirs the drink, but Ibaka gets the Thunder going on defense. Though Durant gets all the accolades with his scoring titles and ability on the offensive side — especially with point guard Russell Westbrook out with an injury — Ibaka is the difference maker down low.
“Serge kind of sets the tone by protecting the rim,” Sixers’ center Spencer Hawes said.
Perhaps Ibaka and the Thunder also helped in the education of the Sixers, too, suggests Brown. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that Oklahoma City was struggling to win 30 games in a tough Western Conference. But now, if it hadn’t been for the lockout season in 2011-12, the Thunder would be zeroing in on their fifth straight 50-win season.
Even with an All-Star in Westbrook sitting out, Durant and Ibaka took the Sixers to school.
“The game was never really gone away completely. We may have been a few threes away from clawing back in it, but they are a well-coached team,” Brown said. “They are a really good example for us given where they have come from.”
Brown and the Sixers can only hope that is the case. At 35-10, the Thunder have the most wins in the NBA and will make another run at a title.
And to think, it all started to come together with a couple of really good draft picks.