Durant’s status as all-time great on display in loss to Raptors

Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant drives around Toronto Raptors' Kawhi Leonard. (Nathan Denette/CP)

TORONTO — Another Golden State Warriors outing, another monstrous scoring night for Kevin Durant, and another reminder that we’re witnesses to an all-time great in his prime.

Durant dropped 51 points on Thursday, marking his third-straight game of at least 44 — the first player in a decade to make that claim — while carrying an average of 48 points per game in that span.

It was hardly an average night at Scotiabank Arena. After all, it isn’t every day the Raptors are widely considered the NBA’s best. This was the only time in the regular season the league’s current dynasty visits Toronto. Stretch limos and Rolls Royce’s lined Bay Street outside the arena entrance and those who showed up for one of the most anticipated non-playoff games in memory in Toronto — certainly this early into the season — were treated to a show.

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The Warriors weren’t at full strength, and it showed throughout the Raptors’ thrilling 131-125 overtime win over the two-time defending champions. Golden State was outplayed. They were overmatched. They made needless mistakes down the stretch. But they also had Durant, and when the generational superstar is on his game, he’s as unstoppable as any.

As if you needed reminding, Durant is already one of the NBA’s all-time greats and an unparalleled scorer in today’s game.

On Thursday, he passed Hal Greer to become the league’s 34th all-time highest scorer. With plenty of years of elite production in the tank, it’s inevitable that he’ll retire near the very top of that list; At this rate, Kobe Bryant’s mark of 33,643 is within reach, meaning when it’s all said and done, Durant will be flirting with a top-three all-time career points mark. He’s that great, and is compiling a resume that’ll leave us debating not whether or not he’s historically a top-ten player, but where on that list he belongs.

In sports, we get plenty of opportunities to treasure greatness, and Thursday night was no exception. And, like any great performer, Durant’s showed impeccable timing while putting on a show.

Down the stretch he repeatedly had an answer for the Raptors’ equally clutch offence. A Kawhi Leonard jumper? Followed by a Durant dunk. A clutch three from Kyle Lowry? Followed instantly by a Durant dagger in response.

“He was stunning,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr summed it up after the game, “how hot he and how smooth he looked out there… He can get any shot he wants.”

Like, for instance, the triple that tied the game at 119-119 with eight seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, an impossible fade-away in the corner with Leonard — widely considered the NBA’s best man-on-man defender — draped all over him.

That’s a shot that Durant, and Durant only, can reliably pull off. Part of what makes him such an unstoppable force is his once-in-a-lifetime combination of size — a legit seven-footer — and shooting ability. Other giants have a nice shooting touch, but nobody shares Durant’s instincts. Throw in guard-like ball-handling skills, a top-flight defensive game and a proven tendency to rise in the biggest moments and it’s a formula for legitimate greatness we’ll be lucky to witness a small handful of occasions in our time watching NBA basketball.

And yet Durant’s brilliance wasn’t enough to get past the Raptors. The Warriors sorely missed Draymond Green, sidelined with a sprained toe, and had no match defensively for Toronto’s barrage of big men. Pascal Siakam scored a career-high 26 points on 8-of-10 shooting in 42 minutes of action, while Ibaka chipped in with 20.

And then there was Kawhi Leonard, one of two or three players in the NBA – sharing company on a list that might only include LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo – for players who can go toe-to-toe and come out on top. Leonard was nothing short of amazing — and every bit as advertised — finishing with 37 points, going 14-for-24 from the field in a season-high 44 minutes.

But mostly everyone in the arena left in awe of Durant — including his own teammates.

“Like I said before I got to this team, he’s the best offensive player I ever played against,” said Warriors forward Jonas Jerebko, a key off-season addition who scored 20 points off the bench and was a menace on the glass down the stretch. “To see him do it for my team, it’s unbelievable… And it’s going to keep happening.”

“I try to be the best version of me,” Durant said after the game. “I just think I have to do what’s required at this point. There’s going to be some games where we have a great team game going … And there’s going to be some games where I need to go get buckets.”

Durant’s 51-point masterpiece aside, it was a rough night for the Warriors. The team fell into a hole early, down as much as 22-8 in the first quarter, and received a relative off-night from Klay Thompson, who missed a few key shots at the end of the fourth quarter.

But help is on the way.

The Warriors’ are about to change in a dramatic way when Curry returns to the floor on Saturday. Green isn’t far behind, and DeMarcus Cousins, a low-post force like these Warriors haven’t incorporated in their lineup during their title reign, could be back shortly after Christmas.

Curry and Green should both be back in action when the Raptors and Warriors meet again in just two weeks on Dec. 12. Golden State will look different, closer to the title favourites they’re expected to remain come June. But Durant’s status as an all-time great remains the same.

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