Behind the numbers: A closer look at OKC's dynamic duo
Published: Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 22:02
Sports are composed of an array of aspects. From the tangible qualities, such as speed, jumping ability, height, and weight to the intangible qualities such as leadership, determination and mental toughness, no one individual entity defines athletics in their entirety. Saving the debate on which of the two aforementioned qualities is more critical to sports, I instead introduce a simple constant that permanently permeates sports and how they are perceived. Ultimately, sports boil down to the ability, or lack thereof, to perform on the world's biggest stage. Faced with pressure situations, fans and analysts alike strive to interpret the play of athletes. Politics, emotion, and personal bias often blur these interpretations. Nonetheless, a light at the end of the tunnel exists. Simply put, statistics are the one objective gauge of the true performance of an athlete in any sport.
With an emphasis on numbers in mind, a subsequent conclusion soon arises. Without a doubt, we recognize that there is a difference between the level of performance. On one hand, we witness the forgetful performance; those which are glaringly below-average and which leave no impact on us. Of course, on the other hand, we have those performances that stick with us; games that are remembered years down the road. Separating these two ends of the spectrum, we see the plain average performances, which provide us with exactly what we expected.
Focusing on the upper echelon of performances, the need to distinguish between the good performances and the historic performances becomes apparent. Many examples come to mind, but the recent performance of basketball's hottest duo helps illustrate the concept vividly. The described duo, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, have thrust the Oklahoma City Thunder into NBA Title contention, currently leading the Western Conference. Strong combined performances between Durant and Westbrook are nothing new; rather, with both players blossoming, they have become rather frequent. However, in Sunday's 124-118 thriller against the Denver Nuggets, the teammates not only led their team to victory, but rewrote history. Led by Durant's 51 points and supported admirably by Westbrook's 40 points, the tandem combined for 91 points. According to ESPN, the last teammates to accomplish the same feat were Denver's Alex English and Kiki Vandeweghe, who combined for 98 points during the 1983 season in a triple overtime game. That's right, Durant and Westbrook accomplished the same feat in 40 fewer minutes. Moreover, the 50-40 feat was something that even Jordan and Pippen, commonly regarded as the best duo ever, failed to accomplish. It is almost ludicrous to consider the word failure and Michael Jordan in the same sentence. The fact that Durant and Westbrook accomplished something "His Airness" did not only speaks volumes to the historic nature of the performance.
Further analysis only identifies additional aspects of the performance. For instance, Durant and Westbrook shot a combined 61.4 percent from the field, demonstrating their overall triumph over the Denver defense. This figure becomes even more impressive when considering that 12 of these shots were three–point attempts, of which the tandem made eight. Along the same lines, Serge Ibaka added to the amazement of the game by pulling in a triple double, becoming the first trio to go for 50-40 and a triple double. In similar fashion, Durant and Westbrook also worked to fill up the stat sheet, and not focus strictly on scoring. On one hand, Durant pulled in eight rebounds, while Westbrook dished out nine assists. Most importantly, according to ESPN, seven of Westbrook's nine assists went to Durant, which epitomizes the telepathic connection between the two on the night.
All in all, the shift from impressive to historic is a tough determination to make when it comes to sports. Often times, it is best to err on the side of caution, as throwing out the "legendary label" too often only detracts from the performances which actually warrant such a label. Nonetheless, when it comes to Durant and Westbrook's performance, no pumping of the breaks is needed. Their performance was bonafide historic, and will not soon be forgotten. Yet, perhaps the most impressive accomplishment of all is not something the two did on the court, but the statement they delivered for the future. In clear, bold fashion, the dynamic tandem suggested to the basketball world, the best is yet to come. So don't shut the history books so quickly, Durant and Westbrook are just getting started.