I have said this many times and will continue to say it until people realize it: Kevin Durant is the best BASKETBALL player on this planet. Not only is he 6’10, long, and lanky, but he can score, rebound, take over and close games. There is a big difference between him and 3-time MVP LeBron James: Durant lives in the gym. There is no denying James’ talent, but I am taking a gym-rat over a gifted-athlete ten times out of ten.
Durant hasn’t reached the “prime” of his career just yet, but he is playing like he has been in the league for ten seasons. He has come up clutch more times than not and last night, entered into a new phase in his career: Big-time playoff performer. While his scoring and rebounding numbers are down (a tiny bit) from last year’s playoffs, Durant’s shooting, three-point and free-throw percentages are up. He is shooting 50.2% from the field, 34.9% from three, and 88.2% from the line. His assists are up more than one a game (1.3 to be exact) and so are his steals (up 0.5).
But numbers don’t mean anything to Durant like I think they do to James. You can tell me all you want about James averaging 28.3, 8.5, and 6.8 for his career in the playoffs. That stuff doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is this: is “The Chosen One” closing-out games and opponents? The only memory I have of James in the playoffs was back in 2009 when he hit a game-winning three-point shot at the buzzer off of an inbounds play against the Orlando Magic. I know he didn’t have the talent around him in Cleveland like Durant has in Oklahoma City, but if LeBron can carry his team to 60 wins in the regular season, then why can’t he finish the deal by winning a championship? Last year, James and Dwyane Wade made it to the Finals and we all know what happened.
But this post isn’t supposed to be about LeBron. It’s supposed to be about Durant.
With his team facing a 2-1 deficit in the Western Conference Finals, Durant knew it would take a total team-effort, like Game 3, for the Thunder to even the series against the machine that is the San Antonio Spurs. Durant didn’t do much in the first-half. He only scored eight points but dished-out four assists in a half that saw the Thunder enter the locker room up 12 points with 24 minutes remaining.
You knew the Spurs wouldn’t make it that easy for the Thunder.
During the last part of the third quarter, OKC saw their lead, as big as 15 points in the third quarter, dwindled down to four points when the third quarter buzzer sounded.
“Durant, enter stage right.”
With 6:52 remaining in regulation and a six-point lead, Durant not one, not two, not, three, not four, not five, but six straight baskets before another teammates scored a basket (almost six minutes of game-time), and made two free-throws. By the time James Harden scored his basket with 1:04 remaining, the lead had stretched to nine points. Kawhi Leonard answered with a three-pointer, but Harden answered with one of his own. The Thunder hit five free-throws to close the game, 109-103.
Durant finished the game with 34 points, six rebounds, and eight assists. But more importantly, the Thunder has tied the series at 2-2.
In the five years Durant has been with the late-SuperSonics/now Thunder, he has elevated them every year. Two years ago, they were moments away from forcing a Game 7 in the first round with the Los Angeles Lakers. Last year, they advanced the Western Conference Finals, but only won one game and lost the series to the Dallas Mavericks, 4-1. This year, they are back in the Conference Finals. And this year, they have a different aura about them. They actually “believe” it is their time.
Durant is showing the league that it’s his time.
What else do expect from a kid who loves the game so much?