Welcome to King of the Court, our daily celebration of the best players in basketball from the night that was. We’ll be keeping track of the best player of every night of the NBA season, and tallying the results as we go along.
King of the Court: Kevin Durant
It’s probably a good thing the NBA doesn’t have pay-per-view for matchups like Kevin Durant vs. Russell Westbrook. What The Ringer dubbed The NBA Regular-Season Super Bowl turned out to be a blowout: The Warriors pummeled the Thunder, 122–96. But the final score doesn’t capture the spectacle of the night, nor does it reflect the mastery of Durant’s offensive explosion.
Durant scored 39 points and tied a career high of seven 3-pointers made in a single game. It seemed like KD, not Westbrook, was the one seeking revenge à la John Wick. Durant was guns blazing all night, drilling shots from everywhere outside. He had 29 points by the end of the first half; he had Westbrook humming “Hello darkness, my old friend …” after this dunk at the end of the third quarter:
Appreciate that play for a moment: Durant is a 7-footer who uses hang dribbles and splits pick-and-rolls with lightning-fast crossovers. He needs just one dribble to get from inside the 3-point line to the paint for a loud dunk. He’s done it all before, but it felt new again Thursday night. Watching Durant break out the greatest hits in a new uniform, against old friends, completed his transfer.
KD spent the week controlling the narrative by giving interviews that painted himself as a lost soul in Oklahoma City. The Warriors as a unit may not be at full capacity, but Durant himself looked completely at peace playing against his old squad. “I’ve moved forward,” Durant told reporters after the game. “I’m a part of the Golden State Warriors, and I’m excited to be a part of this team.” Westbrook, in refusing to discuss his former teammate, might be the one who hasn’t moved on yet.
Forget the final score. The game might’ve been the first chapter of the NBA’s next blood feud. That alone made it special. If Westbrook sticks around in OKC, and Durant stays with Golden State, we’re getting treated to four of these games per season with potentially more in the playoffs. The NBA is at its best when there are rivalries, when there is palpable tension in the arena. We got that with the Warriors and Thunder on Thursday night. Durant was talking shit with Thunder fans and Enes Kanter. Steven Adams was giving the death stare. Durant and Westbrook blocked each other’s shots. They didn’t shake hands before or after the game. Steve Kerr almost went apeshit on a referee. Not to give the league any ideas, but that’s PPV-worthy. If Thursday night’s game was the first chapter, I’m completely satisfied. And guess what? Westbrook is fucking ticked right now. Games like this push him even harder. I can’t wait until Durant-Westbrook II, and I don’t care if it’s another blowout.
Runner-up: Steve Kerr for Almost Throwing Hands With the Referees
You might make the case that Mike Brown should be Thursday night’s runner-up for preventing Steve Kerr from having his Phillip Wellman moment. Brown might’ve run faster than he ever had before trying to chase Kerr after the refs missed a call on Steph Curry early in the first quarter. Kerr was heated, and sprinted out to half court, ready to brawl. Brown successfully held Kerr back, but ruined what could have been the greatest coach freak-out in history. Kerr’s reaction was still gnarly, but it didn’t even reach the level of his shattered-clipboard moment, and now we’re left to only imagine what could’ve been. I think I have a good idea, though:
Honorable Mention: Jabari Parker
Oh, the Warriors and Thunder weren’t the only teams that played Thursday night. Don’t sleep on Jabari Parker as the NBA’s next superstar scorer. If Parker is going to keep taking and making 3-pointers like he did in the Bucks’ 125–107 win over the Pacers, he’ll have plenty more 27-point nights. Parker has a thick, 6-foot-8 frame enhanced by his elite acceleration and fast-twitch leaping ability. Look how quickly he gets off the floor in the dunks above. As Parker becomes a threat from behind the arc, the floor will open up for him, and it’ll be even easier for him to infiltrate the paint and destroy more rims.