Kevin Durant Wins NBA Player of the Night with Game-Saving Performance vs. Bulls

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistNovember 9, 2012

Nov 8, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) makes a pass against Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (13) during the second half at the United Center. The Thunder beat the Bulls 97-91.  Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-US PRESSWIRE
Rob Grabowski-US PRESSWIRE

It was hardly pretty, but Kevin Durant propelled the James Harden-less Oklahoma City Thunder to victory Thursday night.

With just two games on the docket, the NBA was hardly booming with action, yet we were treated to a number of impressive performances all the same.

Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard both had a night to remember, each scoring 20-plus points for the Portland Trail Blazers. Jamal Crawford continued his hot shooting, dropping 25 points and posting a plus-19 for the Los Angeles Clippers. Even Luol Deng joined the party, posting 27 points for the Chicago Bulls.

Yet after all the glitz and the glamour, there was Durant, who single-handedly saved the Thunder from incurring their third loss in five games.

State Line: 24 points, four rebounds, one assist and three steals on 57.9 percent shooting.

The stats would suggest that Durant actually had a subpar evening, but don't let that fool you.

Yes, we're used to Durant scoring more points, grabbing more rebounds and even dishing out more assists, but this goes beyond the numbers.

Like it or not, Oklahoma City has struggled to establish an identity since the Harden trade. The team is fighting to stay over .500 and simply isn't manhandling certain opponents the way it should—specifically the Derrick Rose-less Bulls.

With Harden in the fold, the Thunder would have been poised to put their latest bout out of reach long before the closing seconds. Without him, though, they appeared visibly less explosive and subsequently less effective.

Which means this was a close game; one that wouldn't be determined until the closing seconds.

Oklahoma City entered the fourth quarter down by six, seemingly appearing as if another Atlanta Hawks-like loss was on the way.

But that would have put the Thunder on the hot seat, which has been reserved solely for Los Angeles Lakers thus far.

Even without Harden, this team was too talented to fall below .500 again; to be anything less than a dominant force; to play anything other than championship-caliber basketball.

And Durant knew it. So with less than two minutes to go and the game still up for grabs, he took over.

The star forward hit two big shots down the stretch, none more important than the Dirk Nowitzki-esque fallaway that put the Thunder up four with just 19.5 seconds remaining. That proved to be the dagger the Bulls wouldn't recover from.

His two clutch free throws were merely icing on Oklahoma City's half-baked cake.

So forget that Durant had just one assist. Forget that he was almost invisible on the glass. And forget that he committed six turnovers.

This game was more about his character than anything else. In him we had a player who has been struggling to find a balance between scoring and facilitating since Harden's departure; a battle he continued to fight Thursday night.

Simply put, for the first time, Durant is without a predetermined role. For the first time in his career, his responsibility to the team isn't clear.

"That's what makes a special player," Oklahoma City head coach Scott Brooks said (via Kent McDill of in reference to Durant. "They can have an average game, then in the last four or five minutes they can win the game for you." 

Well, Durant certainly had an average night; a below average one even.

But in spite of that, there was no confusion as to who he needed to be in the closing minutes Thursday. He needed to be a savior; needed to save the game.

He needed to save the Thunder from themselves.

Which he did.

And that's what makes him, and his performance on Thursday, so special.