Even on the night of the Black Mamba’s jersey retirement ceremony, Kevin Durant proved to have the most lethal bite at Staples Center.
Stepping into a 20-foot jump shot in the final seconds of an overtime thriller in Los Angeles, and despite a lackluster shooting performance, Durant led the way with 36 points to secure the Warriors’ eighth consecutive win and spoil Kobe Bryant’s night of celebration by edging the Lakers 116-114 in a Monday night thriller.
Durant emerged as the hero of the night after knocking down the game-winner over Lakers guard Lonzo Ball in the final seconds of overtime, though his night did not get off to a very good start.
Opening the game 0-for-7 from the floor, Durant looked out of rhythm early. Settling for long two-point jumpers, the Lakers successfully baited the Finals MVP into running isolation plays instead of the traditional “pass-first” offense employed by Steve Kerr and company.
It would take Durant almost the entire first quarter to hit a shot from the floor before hitting a three-pointer from the right wing.
Said Durant on his slow start:
“I felt like I got good shots all night. I felt like some I rushed trying to get it back all at once. I just tried to slow it down there in the fourth quarter and overtime. Coach called some great plays and I was able to hit a few shots.”
As if it weren’t bad enough, the Warriors were also forced to bench their only remaining All-Star, Klay Thompson, for most of the first half after a pair of early fouls. On top of that, Thompson out of sorts, shooting just 6-of-24 from the field.
Thompson spoke about his subpar night after the game:
“I was awful tonight, Probably my worst game of the year.”
Showcasing their resiliency after facing an onslaught of adversity, the Warriors ended the first half up 57-53 as the Staples Center began the ceremonial jersey retirements of Bryant.
As though inspired by Bryant’s legendary aura, the Lakers came out of halftime with a purpose, opening the third quarter on a 7-0 run to take a three point lead. From then on, the Warriors and Lakers would trade buckets as Los Angeles forward Kyle Kuzma caught fire.
With Durant finally settling into a groove of his own, the Mamba Mentality was on full display. Up by five with just over a minute remaining, Lakers Guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope buried a three-pointer to bring Los Angeles within two. After a Warriors miss on the other end, Lakers guard Brandon Ingram would tie the game by nailing a driving floater on the baseline, thus sending the highly intense game to overtime at 102-102.
Seizing the moment, Durant proceeded to sink his teeth into the Lakers and prove his lethal capabilities in front of the legend-filled arena. In the final five minutes of overtime, Durant would score 12 of his game-high 36, including a step-back 20-footer to win the game for the Warriors at a final score of 116-114.
Durant recapped the final shot after the game:
“It felt great leaving my hands. I made a solid move and my handle was tight. I seen some separation and tried to just raise up.”
Durant also racked up 11 rebounds, eight assists and three blocks in a true stat-stuffing performance.
The Durantula had shown the raucous Los Angeles crowd that the Mamba who had carried the franchise for two decades was not the only player in the arena who packed a deadly punch, or bite, for that matter.
Durant acknowledged the Bryant-esque performance in his post-game interview:
“That was a Kobe-type of night. I had to hit it for Kobe.”