For about three quarters, Kevin Durant and the rest of the players around him were doing exactly what the optimistic among the Oklahoma City Thunder personnel knew they should be doing in order to win the series. Knock down their shots, and try to hurry up the game as much as possible. At some point, reality hit them in the face. Without Russell Westbrook it was easy to focus on their best player down the stretch, and the guy who thinks he should be the best in the NBA wasn’t good enough to live up to his own desires.
Kevin Durant hit 8 of his first 14 field goal attempts, but in the fourth quarter and overtime he was simply exhausted, or a bit overwhelmed by the traps and Tony Allen defense on him. The Grizzlies realized that the idea of giving guys not named Durant open shots wasn’t working, as proved by Serge Ibaka, Kevin Martin and Reggie Jackson combining for 50 points on 54.5% from the field.
So Durant got the “royal” treatment from a team with the defensive player of the year, closing down the lane, and another member of the All-Defensive first team, Tony Allen. Durant finished the game on 2-13 from the field during the 4th quarter and overtime, missing his final five shots and turning the ball over four times during the game, including twice with Tony Allen guarding him. He was even worse in crunch time with Tayshaun Prince covering him, going 0-7 from the field in the 4th quarter and overtime against those very long arms.
Durant made a lot of noise with an SI interview about being sick of second place. Second best player, finalist, second pick in the draft. There’s more of a meanness to him this season, which came out through technical fouls but also looking a lot more determined to simply do anything his team needs him to win. He stepped back from the scoring, even if he was criticized for allowing Russell Westbrook too many shots while he was the reigning top scorer in the league. Durant wanted to be like LeBron James – praised for his all-around game, not just his scoring, but most of all being a winner.
Without Westbrook, it’s not working. Too much on him – scoring, game managing and putting up a defensive effort against a very physical team he simply isn’t built for. Durant might be a great helper on defense, but right now, his focus isn’t there. His long arms are great for closing down passing lanes and coming from nowhere to steal the ball, but his frame doesn’t allow him to be a tough stopper on the post or simply shut down quick players on the perimeter.
It’s OK. Durant is going to be an hall of famer thanks to other things but his defense. He might end up winning NBA titles without being on the All-defensive teams, not even once. But for now, on this current squad, not having Russell Westbrook playing next to him is too much for the second best player in the league to overcome.