Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant was so dominant during the first half of the season that many basketball pundits were ready to name him this year’s NBA MVP.
The Prince Georges County, Md. native averages a league-high 31 points and went on an unprecedented 12-game streak during January in which he scored at least 30 points or more, so it’s understandable why Durant was widely considered the front-runner for MVP honors.
But that may have changed on Feb. 20 when LeBron James reminded the world of who was MVP in each of the last two seasons, and why this year’s MVP race is far from over. James completely dominated Durant and the Thunder, scoring a game-high 33 points in a commanding 103-81 win over OKC. Durant scored 28 points, but he was invisible early in the game, allowing James to take control of the game and perhaps of the MVP race, too. Did LeBron prove he’s still the NBA’s MVP? The AFRO Sports Desk debates the question:
Riley: Sorry, Durant. It was fun while it lasted, but the thought of another player besides King James winning MVP is now over. Deep down inside, we all knew LeBron was still the best basketball player on the planet. He started out a little relaxed during the first half of the season, but that’s probably because he was just bored with dominating the competition and wanted to make things interesting. But the All-Star break has come and gone and the second half of the season is always the time to turn it up a notch. Well, James definitely turned up on Durant, scoring the first 12 points of the game while Durant went scoreless in the first 16 minutes of action. LeBron probably would have ended with more than 40 points, but OKC’s Serge Ibaka broke James’ nose and ended the fun. Too bad Ibaka didn’t end it sooner, because LeBron did enough to prove why he should win his third-straight MVP, and the fifth of his illustrious career.
Green: It’s amazing just how short a memory people can have. I understand this is a “what have you done for me lately” league, but come on. Are we really going to let one game completely erase a half season worth of production? LeBron has one dominant game, and he automatically leaps ahead of a player who has led his team to the top record in the Western Conference, easily the more difficult conference to compete in compared to the weak Eastern Conference. By the way, LeBron’s Miami is only in second place in that lesser conference.
It’s just plain stupid to glorify LeBron’s performance last week and totally ignore how Durant embarrassed LeBron the first time they faced off on Jan. 29. The only difference between the two games is OKC star point guard Russell Westbrook, who returned from an injury in the second matchup and was so rusty after missing nearly 30 games that he naturally disrupted the offensive rhythm of his team. So while LeBron came out gunning to redeem himself from Jan. 29, Durant was more focused on getting his running mate into the flow of the offense.
Riley: Are we in the business of making excuses for superstar players, or are we sports journalists that tell it how we see it? Because what I saw out there was LeBron stepping up to the challenge and Durant disappearing, almost the same way he disappeared in the 2012 Finals. In fact, Durant’s performance—or lack thereof—was so ugly that I’m really hoping the Thunder don’t make it back to the Finals this year, just so we don’t have to see a repeat of that earlier beat down. Nobody wants to watch that kind of Finals series. We want to see a tightly contested series that will go to seven games. I don’t think Durant and OKC will challenge the King enough to offer us that.
Green: It’s not an excuse; it’s an analytical breakdown of exactly what happened on the court. You said it yourself: Durant didn’t score a point during the first 16 minutes of the game. But it wasn’t because he was missing shots. Durant didn’t score early because he didn’t take a single shot attempt in the first 16 minutes of the game. LeBron came out firing, taking the first eight shots for Miami. He had something to prove to the world. I think it’s a telling sign that Durant didn’t even try to go back-and-forth with LeBron during that moment. As I previously explained, Durant wasn’t interested in an ego contest with James. He was focused on getting Westbrook in a rhythm. That obviously hurt OKC’s chances of winning the game and I believe that, from a fan’s perspective, it wasn’t the right game for Westbrook to make his return. We wanted to see Durant vs. LeBron, one on one, in a battle of the two best players, just as we saw on Jan. 29 when Westbrook was still sidelined. We didn’t get the anticipated showdown because Durant was focused on being a great teammate. But don’t get it twisted. I still believe Durant, when he wants to, can outplay any player in the game, including the great LeBron James. And he’s still well on his way to winning the first MVP honor of his career.