Coming into Sunday's game, Kevin Durant was 1-11 against Carmelo Anthony. That's hard to believe, and after Durant's tour-de-force performance in Sunday's 112-100 Thunder win over the Knicks, it seems even more insane. The record is 2-11 now, and just as meaningless in the grand scheme of things.
Sunday's head-to-head was all set to be a matchup of two superstars, but only Durant rose to the occasion, and he his team got the win.
Beyond the head-to-head record, the history between Durant and Anthony is well-documented. They've won the past four scoring titles, and they're one and two this year. Beyond any statistical measure, they're widely regarded as the two purest scorers in basketball. They even have simple nicknames that just about anyone that has heard of the NBA can identify: KD and Melo. Simply put, they're two of the biggest stars the game has to offer, and any time they go head-to-head, it's a win for the league.
However, just as Durant has always lived in the shadow of Lebron James, battling the argument that James is the better "all-around player," Melo has had that same criticism in comparison to KD. That's why that 1-11 record is so shocking when you first see it.
Unlike in the Durant vs. James case, however, the stats from this season support that argument. Durant's 31.0 points/7.6 rebounds/5.5 assists per game tell the story of his all-around game pretty well to begin with. Melo, for his part, is averaging 27.4p/8.6r/3a. Anthony has always been the better rebounder between the two, but Durant's growth in that category has him not far off. It is the assists that have really elevated Durant into an all-around dominant player.
The assists are a small part of the bigger picture, though, and that's the overall efficiency with which the two play. Durant has worked year in and year out to distinguish himself not just as a scorer, but an efficient scorer.
In contrast, that has always been the biggest knock on Carmelo - that he is simply a gunner, with no real concern for how it affects his team. It has been Durant that has worked to improve his weaknesses from season to season. Anthony, on the other hand, has sort of remained the same player he has been since he came into the league. Durant keeps improving, and Melo keeps watching from the same place he's been standing for the past 10 years.
The percentages this year certainly illustrate Durant's advantage in efficiency. KD's 56.7 eFG% is 17th in the league among players that have played more than 40 games. Add that to the fact that he has the second-most shot attempts (1,011), and you get an idea of Durant's incredible ability to take, and make, high percentage shots. Anthony is third in the league with 1007 field-goal attempts, but his 49.9 eFG% places him far lower at 81st in the league.
The true shooting percentage is also heavily stacked in Durant's favor, whose 64.4 percent places him fourth in the league, while Anthony's 55.8 percent has him at just 56th among players that have played more than 40 games.
If that isn't enough for Durant's "all-around" argument over Melo, consider the fact that there is another side to basketball - defense - where Durant has far excelled over his counterpart. Durant's growth as a defender was documented in his head-to-head with James, but it bears repeating that his defensive rating of 101 is 19th in the league among guys that have played more than 40 games. Anthony's 107 defensive rating, on the other hand, puts him at 82nd under that same criteria, just behind the oft-maligned James Harden.
Despite a 41 point/10 rebound/nine assist outburst from KD on Sunday, it was the defensive side where he may have most decisively won the matchup.
Just looking at how each team approached defending the other's superstar, you get the sense where both players are in their careers. Melo and the Knicks left the responsibility of guarding Durant to the defensive-minded point guard Iman Shumpert. For the Thunder, it was Durant took Melo all to himself.
That says a lot to begin with. The Thunder trusted Durant to handle one of the most potent scorers in basketball. With the way he handled it, it's hard to see why they wouldn't.
Anthony finished the afternoon with just 15 points... and he took 19 shots to get there. With Durant guarding him, he was 3-of-11 shooting. Also, with the game relatively close throughout the afternoon, when the Knicks most needed their star to create some offense, he converted just one field goal in the final 21 minutes.
Durant, for his part, was his usual efficient self, creating looks for teammates, letting the game come to him, never forcing anything that wasn't there. He was 12-of-22 from the field, got to the line 18 times, recorded nine assists, created at least three more easy looks in the final minutes that could have given him a triple-double. He had everything working. And to do it while also playing the defensive side of the ball was just another line on his MVP resume - a resume that gets more robust each and every game.
There wasn't really much of a debate at all regarding KD vs. Melo. But even if there was, there definitely wouldn't be after Sunday.
Really, a replay of the entire game could go in this section. That's how dominantly Durant played. Up and down the floor, both sides of the ball, it was an exhibition on how a great player can lead an entire team. Here are but a few of the highlights of the highlight of a game.
1.) Here was a nice, early look at how Durant used his defensive instincts to control the matchup. He missed a few shots early, but stayed focused on defense. Here, he closes out on a Melo attempt and forces him to put it on the ground. Durant then combines excellent recovery technique along with his already-absurd length to block Anthony's shot.
But that's just the start of it. Because Durant then gathers the ball and immediately shifts into offense mode and leads the break. He uses that finishing ability that no other 7-footer on the planet could use to get his first points of the day. Note Anthony's halfhearted swipe at the ball on defense. Durant menaces Anthony on one end, and Anthony basically wants no part of Durant on the other end. The wheels are set in motion.
That's an underrated skill to have. To make a defensive play like that is one thing, but to immediately turn on the offense right after that is what separates the great players. More than that, it helped Durant find his rhythm. Again, he missed his first few attempts. But all it takes is one solid defensive play, and seeing the ball go through the hoop, to change your mindset for the rest of the game. That certainly happened for Durant, as he went off the rest of the way.
2.) In play 2, here's a great example of how Durant helps the rest of his team start finding their rhythm. Ibaka and Durant have developed quite the two-man game in Westbrook's absence. This will go a long way in the playoffs when Ibaka - already great at playing off Westbrook - will now have Durant to create even more open looks for the three stars.
At this point in the game though, Ibaka was still scoreless and wasn't really all that involved in the offense at all. Durant slowly gathers himself, lets the pick and roll play out, and feeds his big man for the easy alley-oop assist. It's not that there was anything too complicated about it. It's just that the game, up to that point, had been a little up-and-down, and things hadn't settled down for a spot-up guy like Ibaka to find his rhythm. Durant, though, knows how important it is to Ibaka clicking on offense, and the things it can open up for him, so as things slowed down, he found the opportunity to get his big man going. Ibaka would finish with 16 points and nine rebounds on 8-of-11 shooting.
3.) This is a great example of what makes Durant such a tremendous leader. The entire sequence is a thing of beauty. Again, Durant is controlling the ball, trying to find the best shot for either him or his teammates. As he drives and sees nothing there, he kicks it out to the top for Reggie Jackson, who has a clean look but decides to get it to Lamb in the corner for a cleaner look. Lamb misses, but Ibaka does the Tyson-Chandler- patented backtap (over Tyson Chandler!) out to Durant.
Durant, in a moment of awareness that he has shown throughout this season, makes an effort to reward Ibaka's hustle. He feeds Serge with the pass for a wide open jumpshot, which he makes.
Those, again, are the plays that make Durant an MVP, a joy to watch, and I can only imagine, a joy to play with. So many players would have taken that backtap and tried driving to the hoop and capitalizing on the out-of-position defense. That's not necessarily a bad play, either, by the way, and Durant most likely could have done that here. But he knows the type of effort that Ibaka is giving out there, and when he sees he can get him a wide-open look, it's the perfect opportunity to reward him.
It's just two points on that possession, but it's what it does to Ibaka's confidence, as well as what it does for the rest of the team to see they have a leader that isn't afraid to set them up when they earn it.
4.) Here, again, is another example of Durant consciously making the switch from offensive-minded to defensive-minded. Durant misses both free throws, which hardly ever happens. You can see the frustration as he gets back on defense, but he quickly composes himself and locks down on J.R. Smith for an entire possession, finally forcing a tough shot and miss. He then takes the pass and is able to draw a foul at the other end just before the half.
That's another one of those plays where you just appreciate the mind of Kevin Durant, and as a fan, you trust that he has everything under control. He could have sulked and given up an easy basket on the other end. In all honesty, he kind of did that against the Magic Friday night. But this time around, he knew he couldn't let the misses lead to an easy basket on the other end. Also, a basket there cuts it to a one-possession game before half.
So Durant blocked it out and locked down on D. That wasn't an easy possession either. He fights through a screen and never lets fatigue or anything else cause a letdown before the half. As he's shown all season, he can lock down anybody when he focuses. It was just a great job of not letting offense affect defense, and the perfect "lead-by-example" play by Durant.
Play of the game: The game was still back-and-forth at this point, despite the Thunder holding a 10-point lead. But once again, it was Durant making the right basketball play that basically sealed the deal. Yeah, there was still another quarter left after it, but seeing how in control Durant had his team meant that there was no way there would be a repeat of the Magic game. They were closing this one out.
The play itself, like most of Durant's highlights, was nothing too flashy. Just a simple read of the double team and a sneaky-difficult, on-the-money bounce pass. Ibaka's finish though? That was flashy. Great setup from Durant though, and the type of play that sucks away any momentum the Knicks were hoping to have heading into the fourth quarter.