A true superstar doesn’t hit only 23.8% of his field goals attempts (taking 21 shots) as his team faces elimination. But Kevin Durant had to be everything for the Oklahoma City Thunder in their conference semifinals series, and ended up without anything left to give in the final two games. Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson actually put up the numbers they were supposed to in giving him the helping hand he needed, but it was a little too late, as Durant couldn’t find anything left in his arsenal in the fourth quarter.
The Grizzlies shut down Durant when it mattered the most for a second straight game. The Thunder lost games 4&5 in the series by a combined 10 points; 103-97 in game 4 (overtime) and 88-84 in game 5. But Durant simply didn’t show up to the final quarters. He shot a combined 3-17 in the two fourth quarters and overtime that closed out the series, and was hardly able to think straight playing 48 minutes (averaging 45.8 in the series), making the wrong decision time after time, be it in his shot selection or his bad passes.
You expect a superstar of his caliber to give more. He started the series with 35.5 points in the first two games, but ended up averaging only 24.3 in the final three games, all defeats. Some teams can live with their superstar doing everything, including preferring the pass to his own scoring numbers. The Thunder ain’t one of them, especially with Russell Westbrook watching from the side.
Scott Brooks said Kevin Durant can handle the load of more than 3000 minutes and hardly any rest in the postseason.Apparently, he couldn’t. Not because the Grizzlies beat the Thunder by putting them through a meat grinder and slowly twisting until there was nothing left, but because he crumbled under the immense fatigue and physical punishment. Durant went through a bit of a transformation this season; the kind that makes some people happy to see him leave the postseason early, humbled by the reality of his own abilities and limitations. Even if you are one of those people, it’s hard to ignore how painful it looked for him to come up short once more.
This isn’t about the James Harden trade. It’s about Durant being left alone, without the superstar he’s used to playing next to, and facing impossible expectations. Some of them he donned on himself by claiming he wants to be number one, the best. Well, the best wouldn’t have been so quiet, almost unnoticeable in the deciding games as his team lost four consecutive games before bowing out of the playoffs.
Sulking was probably the best way to describe at the post-game press conference. All the expectations that haven’t been met came crashing to that single moment. Despite his young age, there’s a feeling of taking a step back this season. That the Thunder weren’t as good, for a number of reasons. Durant not making that transformation into a playoff beast is one of them.
Maybe it’s all about Russell Westbrook not being able to play. It’s hard to replace a point guard who scored 23 points per game and takes more shots than Durant himself. But the Thunder should have been able to put up more of a fight, and the first one the fingers are going to point at is Kevin Durant, for generally being disappointing and sub-par when the Thunder needed him the most.