By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
MEMPHIS – Mr. Unreliable was a lot less harsh with the newspaper than the newspaper was with him.
Hours after he was dubbed “Mr. Unreliable” in a banner headline in Thursday’s edition of The Oklahoman, Kevin Durant was actually Mr. Gracious. Told of the characterization by reporters that encircled him after the Thunder’s midday shootaround, Durant blinked for a moment while absorbing it, but did not push back.
“I’m unreliable? I don’t read the newspaper. But … me, Mr. Unreliable?” Durant said. “That’s what they said? Well, it’s all good, I don’t really care. It comes from my paper back at home. That’s what they’re supposed to write. I didn’t come through for the team. They’ve got to write that type of stuff.”
Actually, they don’t. That specific word didn’t appear in any of the Thunder writers’ stories but showed up in the headline process after the stories were filed.
Didn’t seem to matter to Durant regardless, after he scored 26 points in the 100-99 Game 5 loss Tuesday but shot 10-of-24 to get them. He had a turnover and a key missed 3-pointer late in the game, missed a free throw in the final minute of overtime and settled for another long shot rather than attack on OKC’s final possession.
“As a player, as a competitor, there’s going to be good and bad days,” said the player favored to be named the 2014 Most Valuable Player. “People are going to build you up or break you down. It’s all how you stay even-keel. I think that’s where I am. My teammates love me, my family loves me, so that’s all that really matters to me.”
Through six games, Durant has averaged 28.0 points but a career-playoff high 25.0 field-goal attempts, hitting just 40.0 percent of them. His 3-point accuracy is 28.6 percent, a personal low for any season or postseason. And his current PER of 18.1 pales next to his 26.0 mark in last year’s playoffs or 27.5 during the Thunder’s Finals run in 2012.
“It’s all about what have you done for me lately. I understand that,” Durant said.
Durant’s teammate Russell Westbrook, was quick to defend Durant. “That’s B.S. in my eyes,” Westbrook said. “One week ago you called him MVP. Now the next, you call him unreliable. That don’t make any sense to me.”
Durant’s coach Scott Brooks felt the same. “There’s a lot of things you can say about him. That wouldn’t be one of them. He’s as reliable as I’ve ever been around, any athlete. He’s there the first thing in the morning. He comes to work every day. To me, that’s reliable.”
The Grizzlies left the whole thing alone, talking instead about how feared Durant remains and no doubt blaming the OKC paper for providing bulletin-board material.
Even the sports editor of The Oklahoman, Mike Sherman, questioned the headline, backpedaling after some angry reaction to it both in the paper’s circulation area and nationally. It “missed the mark,” Sherman wrote, adding:
The words were overstated and unduly harsh. The headline and presentation left the impression that we were commenting on Durant’s season, career or even character. We were not. We were referring only to the Memphis series.
The fact the headline and presentation left that impression with so many readers is proof that we failed.
The uproar was reminiscent of the Orlando Sentinel‘s infamous reader poll back in 1996. The newspaper asked the public to weigh in on Shaquille O’Neal’s future with the Magic and wound up getting blamed when the free-agent big man left Orlando to sign with the L.A. Lakers.
Then again, if Durant were to have a big Game 6 Thursday and lead the Thunder back all the way in Game 7, he could savor the moment by doing this.