Durant can’t let them see him sweat

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The TNT crew breaks down Game 2 and previews Game 3 of the Grizzlies-Thunder series

Kevin Durant talked all season about rising as a leader. So now is not the time for you to let them see you sweat, Mr. soon-to-be-named league MVP.

Durant allowed frustration to get the better of him during and after Monday night’s Game 2 overtime home loss to the seventh-seeded Grizzlies. He scored 36 points, but nothing came easy. He was 12-for-28 with Grizzlies stopper Tony Allen again applying velcro defense. After the 111-105 defeat, Durant, through slumping body language and dismissive speech, presented an air of fatalism instead of optimism, confidence and determination.

Seated at a dais alongside Russell Westbrook, Durant slouched in his chair, his head hung and shoulders folded inward. He purposefully lowered his voice into the microphone to a barely audible level. One of the more insightful players in the league offered, purposefully, mostly curt, short answers to questions he seemed to deem beneath him. On occasion he sniped back at reporters.

It wasn’t a good look.

If Allen and the Grizzlies didn’t already believe they had Durant flustered by their defensive clamp-job, all they need to do is watch his postgame performance. Durant failed to follow his own words of wisdom spoken just prior to Game 1.

“I always tell myself to be a great leader, a great encourager and a great teammate and everything else will fall right after that,” Durant said.

Frustration is understandable. Allen is again proving to be the most effective Durant antidote in the game. He did it as a mostly fourth-quarter stopper in last year’s semifinal series the Grizzlies won in five games with OKC missing Westbrook. Even with Westbrook back, Durant’s operating space remains as cramped as an airplane lavatory.

“He’s in your face,” Durant, the league’s runaway scoring champion, said. “He’s a smaller guy and smaller guys, when you guard bigger guys you try to get up under him a little bit. I’ve been playing against him for a while. He’s the toughest guy in the league for anybody because he’s so quick and he’s strong. But I just got to rely on my teammates and rely on my work I put in and I’ll be all right.”

Durant didn’t get much help from his teammates in Game 2, an aspect the Thunder will have to address before Thursday’s Game 3 (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV). Westbrook was 11-for-28 from the field and forced far too many shots. The bench was unusually impotent with Reggie Jackson failing to make a field goal and Caron Butler going 1-for-4 from the floor.

At least twice during the game Durant expressed frustration with his own team. Early on he glared at Serge Ibaka as play continued and said, “Give me the ball,” after Ibaka had instead passed out an offensive rebound to Jackson standing at the opposite wing from Durant.

Late in the game, Durant flailed his arms and made a B-line to coach Scott Brooks after Brooks called a timeout just as Westbrook had grabbed control of a loose ball at a critical juncture and was gaining speed the other way for a potential transition scoring opportunity.

“No, that wasn’t a key play,” Durant said afterward. “We got a great stop, it looked like a jump ball and coach wanted to be the first one to call a timeout. It wasn’t a turning point in the game. It wasn’t why we lost.”

Durant on Monday described his inner-sanctum as “peaceful,” though the load he shoulders is fraught with pressure. His remarkable regular season included performances and streaks that haven’t been accomplished since Michael Jordan and because of it the MVP trophy is virtually unanimously believed to be his. Now everybody expects him to take the next step and lead the Thunder to the championship, or at least get the chance to avenge their 2012 Finals loss to LeBron James and the Heat.

If not, the pre-title scrutiny that dogged LeBron will ramp up and the undying rhetoric regarding his and Westbrook’s compatibility will heat up all summer long.

All the Thunder has to do is win one in Memphis and they regain control of a series they already knew would be challenging, regardless of seeding.

Durant, 25, has been the game’s most devastating player all season long. Now is not the time to let them see him sweat.

The best advice for him is to simply follow his own words.

“I feel great. I’ve seen it all in the playoffs, throughout the regular season,” Durant said at the start of the series. “Teams are going to try to beat me up, but I’m ready for it. I always feel comfortable because I feel comfortable with myself, I feel comfortable with my game. I’m not the strongest guy, I’m not the quickest or fastest, but I just feel comfortable with myself and I know what I can do out there on the floor.”

25 Comments

  1. overTHERE says:

    The best teams in the nba have bad games occasionally and when they do it’s the lesser teams job to attack. In the west its so damn tight that you simply can’t have even a slip up or you will lose. OKC and the Spurs better stop believing their own hype and dominance over the league during the regular season…Play smarter, and most importantly MUST get a whole team effort on both sides of the court! The star players alone (exception for Portland who look to be the real powerhouse in the west now that they’re healthy. LMA playing his best basketball, Lillard proving the doubters wrong) cannot be relied upon so heavily against teams that are playing such great team ball, so far most success has followed cohesive team play rather than hero balling stars.

  2. Kws1066 says:

    Durant is good but Pacers r better! They’ll come alive and wins the finals.

  3. Pepe says:

    I think OKC will bounce back. It will be a grinding series with no easy wins. Still, OKC will come through, at least for this series.

  4. Somebody else says:

    Part of the problem with OKC is Russell Westbrook who takes too many shots too inconsistently. He needs to ease back a little there and be more of a play maker. Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka are both better shooters than him.

  5. roey says:

    OKC VS MIAMI HEAT In finals , OKC win 4-2
    remember i predicted that.

  6. OKC says:

    Everyone keeps talking about Allen holding Durant to 12/28 and how he has his number. That is 36 points at around 42%…. other than Lebron any other player would be more than happy with that stat line lol.

  7. Rob says:

    I still feel that OKC needs a solid low post scorer.

  8. Tibi says:

    I think Indiana Pacers will win the title,about OKC their hopes are rely on Kevin Durant it it the only man who play for that team and probably Memphis will elimintate them.

  9. Griz M-Town says:

    How is Memphis lucky. People please check the facts. Last seven playoff games Memphis 5-2 versus the Thunder, that’s called having that teams number. So all you people saying Memphis has NO chance, please put your money where your mouth is

  10. Realist2014 says:

    Seriously? Do people even watch OKC play? Durant and Westbrook are their offense. Ibaka is the core of their defense and they get minimal scoring from everyone else. Frustrate their 2 guns (never stop) and make sure the other seat fillers don’t do jack and it doesn’t matter Durant drop 30 and Westbrook put up 30. They are one sided on the offensive end. Their Defense wins them games though. I like OKC but I won’t be blind to their flaws.

  11. okc2014 says:

    It was just one game. I’m not going to panic. Kevin Durant is still a very young guy. And talking to the media every second gets old, especially when you had a bad day. He was slumped like that because he was let down by his teammates. He wants to win a championship more than MVP. And I believe Russell Westbrook is on the same page. He just can’t let go that he missed 17+ games and is trying to make up for lost time. I am confident that they will all be put in check by next game now and we will see the OKC that I know come tomorrow. Still OKC2014.

  12. Luke says:

    Maybe at the end of this series people will see that Westbrook is the most overrated player in the NBA

  13. Kome the Black Dumba says:

    Russell westbrook should have been DPOY instead of Noah. After-all, he’s been denying the best scorer in the league Kevin Durant all year long.

  14. Exactly correct! Durant can’t let them see him sweat! He needs to get in Westbrook’s grill and let him know that he is the Scottie Pippen of the team not a Michael Jordan of the team! That role for OKC should only belong to KDTrey5!

  15. lovewinsuganda says:

    Never commented on this…but really? Defensive clamp? Antidote to Durant…if thats a defensive clamp and an antidote…and he is still scoring 36 points…ok…

    • DesiOnTheLoose says:

      You obviously didn’t watch the game, did you? Durants line: 12-28 FGM and 5-12 3Point FGM. That was Allen. Nuff said

      • Emeka Nnaji says:

        While I will admit Allen frustrated and made life difficult for Durant, Durant still dominated the second half. He was 6-18 at a point and end up being 12-28. Dont forget that one or two shots were prays at the end of the game. Im not taking credit from Allen, he did an excellent job, but Durant still did his thing. He had one or two turnovers as well. Okc needed to step up and Westbrook needed to step down. There putting to much on Allen situation and Durant is foolishly letting it get to him.

      • Game Time says:

        He got 36pts on +40%. It’s stupid to give credit to Allen.

  16. Whom says:

    Offense is much too stagnant. Westbrook needs to distribute more, they need to get better shots. In addition, they need to get to the rim more often. At this point, I think it’s a coaching issue, as it’s been the same story for years. Anything can happen with a player of Durants caliber, but history is not on their side when only 2 players can effectively score. Why? Because take even just one of them out of the game, the other can’t possibly score 60+ to ensure wins in 4 out of 7 games in any series. Something has to be done about their offensive system, and a decent low post scorer is ideal to bring in during the off season should OKC come up short once again.

    • Emeka Nnaji says:

      I agree my friend. I’ve always said that Scott Brooks has no real offensive system in place. OKC rarely runs any plays and during clutch they wait for a miracle from Durant. Brooks has been riding the talent of Durant and Westbrook too long. I said it a year or two ago that OKC would regret giving a Brooks a 4 year extension. He’s a worse problem than Westbrook. A real coach could have probably tamed Westbrook by now, but Brooks is too lenient. If OKC wins a ship with Brooks and Westbrook playing like this, OKC will go down as the most talented team in history.