OKLAHOMA CITY – iPad? Check. Bible? Check. Headphones? Check. Phone charger? Check.
Now it looks like Kevin Durant is preparing to pack something else into his backpack for tonight’s Western Conference finals Game 4 against the Mavs — an attitude.
Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman sums up what a lot of visitors to the Thunder practice on Sunday notice: The usually-serene Durant seemed to be boiling beneath the surface.
Durant was somber. Gloomy. Angry, almost. Check that. Angry, definitely.
Mad at the media? Mad at himself? Mad at DeShawn Stevenson’s defense, which is trying to go all Shane Battier and Tony Allen on the NBA scoring champion?
Head cold? Girl problems? Cable out at the new house in Gaillardia?
Whatever it is, Durant offered no clues.
“We just don’t want to lose,” Durant said. “Just ready to play, man.”
What’s sticking in Durant’s craw, of course, is the 7-for-22 clunker of a shooting performance he left out on the floor of the Oklahoma City Arena in Game 3 when his Thunder promptly gave right back the home court advantage they’d stolen away from Dallas in Game 2.
It was a game that began horribly for Durant with three straight misses, including an airball on a 3-pointer, and ended with him conspicuously missing from the offense when the Thunder were making a late fourth-quarter rally.
We have seen the Thunder bounce back from adversity many times before. They are 26-6 this season in games following a loss and they have not dropped back-to-back games so far in the playoffs.
We have seen Durant himself recover spectacularly in the conference semifinals against Memphis. After he was held to 3-for-14 shooting and 11 points in Game 6, Durant pumped in 39 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead OKC in Game 7.
Against the Grizzlies, Durant merely nodded his head and promised to be ready for the seventh game. He said he’d be prepared, focused and intense from the opening tip.
This is definitely a different side of Durant than he has shown in his four NBA seasons and, we’ve got to admit, it’s a bit jarring. It’s like bending down to pet your cuddly puppy and winding up with a snarling Cujo in your lap. Has he concluded that nice guys can’t finish first? Is it wise to suddenly try to change the essence of your personality?
The angry and disrespected act has certainly worked for many athletes in the past. Just look over to the Eastern Conference side of the bracket where LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are constantly fueling their tanks with real or imagined criticism. It’s gotten them a 2-1 lead on the Bulls. So maybe it can work for Durant, too, with a little extra bite in his game. But here at Hang Time Headquarters, we’re already missing the smile.