He’s never played a playoff game without Russell Westbrook by his side, but Kevin Durant seemed quite comfortable doing everything on his own, despite everyone claiming the Oklahoma City Thunder and their title hopes are now doomed due to the season-ending injury to their All-Star point guard.
A lot of bad blood is always a recipe for a tight series. Westbrook was accidentally hit by Patrick Beverley in what turned out to be his season-ending moment in Game 2. Kendrick Perkins retaliated by a screen foul right off the bat. Kevin Durant was super aggressive all night, including going for the steal off of Jeremy Lin (who shouldn’t have been playing with his chest injury) while the Rockets’ player was calling for a timeout.
The Thunder came away with a 105-102 win in Houston, taking a 3-0 lead, in what might seal the series, although now that they’re without Westbrook, no one knows for sure. They had a 39-19 lead after the first quarter, but the Rockets made a furious rally and had a 99-97 lead with less than a minute left.
Durant took a tough three, and the ball bounced on the rim three times before it sank, and gave the Thunder the final lead change in their favor. James Harden turned the ball over on the next possession, and the Thunder built a three point lead the Rockets couldn’t narrow down or beat.
But the story was obviously Durant, scoring 41 points with 14 rebounds (just the fifth NBA player in the last 25 seasons to record at least 40 points and 14 rebounds in a road playoff game), shooting 13-30 from the field and having Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher stay out of his way. Durant also led the Thunder in assists with 4 , while the rest of the team, excluding his performance, shot only 35.1% from the field.
The Rockets now have an opening, even if Lin can’t and shouldn’t continue playing. The Thunder needed Durant to play 47 minutes and 16 seconds in order to come up with the narrowest of wins, and the Rockets didn’t play all that great. Serge Ibaka was very good with 17 points and 11 rebounds, while Reggie Jackson with 14 points showed he’s quite effective in a limited point guard role.
But without Westbrook, it’s all about Durant, and everyone knows it. In a test that will tell everyone just how good he can be, it’ll be up to him not only to close out the series against the Rockets, who for their sake probably got a whiff of how to better handle the number one seed in the West, but to carry the Thunder for the rest of the postseason, without really getting a lot of rest along the way.
The Thudner aren’t a better team without Westbrook. No team is better without him, especially when the loss comes this late in the season. It might make the shooting hierarchy a little clearer, but it does put a load on Durant’s shoulder that might be too much to take for a prolonged period of time. Against the Rockets, it might and should be enough. A little bit further down to road? Looks pessimistic.