By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com
OKLAHOMA CITY — MVP Kevin Durant doesn’t have to worry about public speaking. He’s got that nailed.
Free throws, inexplicably, is another story.
“I don’t know, man,” Durant said after Tuesday morning’s shootaround as to what he attributes his postseason foul-shooting slide. “I’ve been working on it. I just got to get back to the basics, just focus on my feet and my follow-through and stay confident.”
The Oklahoma City Thunder superstar, awarded the league’s MVP trophy on Tuesday, went 5-for-8 from the line in Monday’s Game 1 home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, not that improved free-throw shooting would have turned a game in which Chris Paul was scorching with a career-best eight 3-pointers. Game 2 is tonight (9:30 p.m. ET, TNT).
Durant missed a game-tying free throw with 27 seconds left in the Game 5 loss in the Thunder’s first round series. He followed up in Game 6 with his best free-throw effort of the playoffs going 14-for-15. Since, he’s just 9-for-14 (64.3 percent), and he’s shooting 75 percent from the free-throw line in the playoffs. He’s missed 17 free throws in eight games.
“I can’t be shooting 75, 74 percent from the free-throw line in the playoffs,” Durant said. “I have to do better.”
Durant’s shooting percentages across the board have slid from his fantastic regular-season marks of 50.3 percent overall, 39.1 percent from beyond the arc and 87.3 percent from the free-throw line. He’s actually experienced slippage since the start of April, and Memphis’ saran-wrap defense in the opening round certainly played a role in the first two shooting categories taking a dip.
But his slippage at the free throw line is more of a mystery. Typically it can signal tired legs or a lack of focus or concentration. Often those two things are interrelated. Durant logged more minutes than any player during the regular and he’s averaging a playoff-high 44.8 mpg. He logged 45, 49, 49 and 52 minutes against Memphis in Games 2 through 5, all four which went to overtime. It was the first time in NBA playoff history that a series had four consecutive OT games.
Yet, the 25-year-old Durant continues to insist that he is physically fine.
During the regular-season, Durant was far and away the league leader in free-throw attempts with 805, 9.9 free throw attempts per game. The Clippers’ Blake Griffin was next with 674 attempts. Durant made 703.
In the playoffs, Durant ranks second in free-throw attempts, averaging 8.5 a game — boosted by the 15 he took in Game 6 at Memphis — and third in made free throws. Teammate Russell Westbrook is second in makes although he ranks just fifth in attempts.
Durant has attempted double-figure free-throw attempts just twice in the playoffs, and six or fewer in half of them. Durant knows a big part of his game is getting to the line, that’s the first part. He also knows that when he gets there and misses, he can leave critical points on the floor.
“I’m always working on it,” Durant said. “And if I get there tonight, I’m confident I can knock them down.”