OKLAHOMA CITY – For most of the night he was as slack-jawed and amazed as the rest of sellout crowd of 18,203 at Chesapeake Energy Arena, watching Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins hit a combined 18 of 20 shots to drag the Thunder into the fourth quarter.
Then Kevin Durant stepped up and carried them home.
He became a pack mule taking on the burden. He became a longshoreman lugging the goods. He became the basketball equivalent of the mythical Atlas, hoisting all of Oklahoma City on his shoulders.
Durant showed why he has not only been the NBA’s leading scorer for three years running, but is the game’s most unstoppable offensive force once he cranks it up.
While LeBron James and Dwyane Wade try to figure out what to do in late-game situations in Miami, there are no questions and no debates in OKC.
After Tim Duncan hit a driving layup, the Spurs had clawed their way back to within 86-82 and had life.
And just like that, Durant snuffed it out. He scored 16 consecutive points and every one of them look as smooth and easy as eating ice cream.
There was a 16-foot fadeaway, an 8-foot jumper, a 9-foot fader where he was fouled and converted the three-point play. He followed by dropping in a 4-foot floater and then broke the Spurs’ back for good when he slipped back door to catch a lob pass from James Harden that became another three-point play. He topped it off with 17-footer.
That was a sweet 16 in the space of 5:01 and the Spurs were simply helpless to stop him.
“He’s the leading scorer,” said San Antonio’s Stephen Jackson. “He’s going to have a game like that. Once a player of that caliber starts scoring, it’s hard to stop him. He got into a nice rhythm. I was able to stop him one time. But once he got the lob and and-1, he was rolling and it was kinda too late.”
It is, of course, the starring role for which Durant has been cast ever since he joined the Thunder as a rookie in 2007 and he has had plenty of moments to shine over the past five seasons. But this is the Western Conference finals and this was a time for the star to explode. Durant streaked across the sky with an all-around game of 36 points, eight assists and six rebounds topped off by grabbing the spotlight for his clutch solo.
In typical Durant fashion, he passed off the credit.
“I wouldn’t say I carried us,” he said. “We made a good effort together. We had 27 assists. That comes from moving the ball and making the right plays. I think doing that in the first three quarters kind of opened it up for me in the fourth and I was able to make some shots.”
But he does embrace the role of closer.
“Yeah, I would like that,” Durant said. “I just want to be calm and composed in those situations and make the right basketball play. There are times when I need to pass to my teammates and times when I need to score. I just try to take it on, try not to be nervous. Sometimes it’s nerve-wracking playing games like that. But I try to calm down and go with my instincts.”
Let them try to sort things out in Miami. They know their closer in Oklahoma City and it’s safe to say those instincts are good.