Sunday, June 3, 2012

Durant Puts On Show as Thunder Suddenly Looks Invincible

The turnaround arrived at Kevin Durant's house in another decisive game of this fascinating home stand. The Oklahoma City Thunder were on life support, barely surviving, staying alive and almost experienced postseason death. But when they traveled to their familiar territory, for these last two games, the Thunder were no longer pushed around by the San Antonio Spurs.

For all the noise about the Spurs having the deepest unit, for all the talk around the water cooler, in the workplaces and arguments at bars all over about Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker stealing Game 3 and reestablishing themselves, the Thunder changed the fans' perceptive after wrapping up a 109-103 victory in Game 4 to even the Western Conference Finals at two games apiece.

Covered in a sea of blue at Chesapeake Energy Arena, thousands of fans wildly screamed, cuddled in the stands to witness Durant score all 16 of the Thunder's points down the stretch. It's time to realize Durant, the NBA's reigning scoring champ, is an emerging superstar, planting the seeds for his own groundwork in a league where he is suddenly the newest star on the block. Now, having said all that, he's also the hottest tale of Oklahoma City, which he's fun to watch and has suddenly expanded his art of shooting to steal the show, becoming the cutest clutch performer of late.

And finally, he mastered his ability to shoot the ball. The more he shot it, the more he made, hotter than ever, making shot after shot and, as a result, led the Thunder in the final minutes of his scintillating performance. In the end, it was exactly about Durant's fourth-quarter spurt, if nothing else. This also changed the aspect of the game, and maybe even the personality of these playoffs for the Thunder, a team only two wins away from securing a spot in the NBA Finals. Durant is a streaky shooter and can heat up at any giving moment. So, of course, it's not a surprise he had 18 of his 36 points in final seven minutes.

From his craft and finesse that seem to better define him, he knocked down a fadeaway jumper, and then made a couple of jump shots in ways that boosted the team's confidence. Quick upsurges in the fourth quarter of a must-have ratcheted up his level of play. Fundamentally, Durant mastered the way of winning close games and grinding out late-game heroics, whether it was burying a step back or fadeaway jump shot. It probably crossed Durant's mind, after his team's 15-point lead diminished to four, that this would be the moment he take matters into his own hands.

That led to a fantastic ending after Durant hit an array of shots, mostly coming from him in the fourth quarter to give spectators an awe-inspiring performance. And when the Spurs were rallying for a near-comeback -- as a comfortable lead slowly disappeared -- right then Durant took over. In time, we'll know if the Thunder are real or not. And therein lies good vibes for Oklahoma City, two wins away from earning a spot on basketball's national stage. It was nice to see Durant single-handedly maul the Spurs to send the series back to San Antonio tied for Game 5 Monday night.

Along the way, in Game 4, he buried three straight jumpers, including one that came after he bumped into Parker in the lane to draw the foul that set up a three-point play. Moments later, he attacked the rim and earned a trip to the foul line when he was fouled and finished a layup on lob pass from James Harden. This is what we expect from our NBA superstars, an epic masterpiece that centers one of finest studs in pro basketball, and certainly we are proud to present a three-time scoring champion. Seen coming off a screen, which was perfectly executed by Westbrook, Durant made another jumper to continue domination. As the clock was dwindling down, Durant hit two free throws in the final moments to come away victorious.

It's fun to root for Durant. That's because he's very matured, humbled, likable, and allows the game to do the talking for him. It's amazing to see how he's grown since making his transition to the professional level. There's no need to bother asking about trust issues, but we can often ask the question why Durant is rarely mentioned on the same list as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony.

It almost -- in many ways -- feels as if he's been in the league for years when he is only 23-years old and not too long made his presence felt. That's because he has the mind of a longtime veteran. It was a one-man show late in the fourth. It's clear Durant is a leader, a closer, a marksman, and with that in mind, he knows when to attempt shots and when to get Thunder's big men involved.

So what did Durant do?

For three quarters, he was dishing off passes to Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, who both were dunking over bodies. The sidekick of the night was Ibaka, obviously, after having a career-high 26 points. Most of the time he was pouring in 18-footers or either getting to the lane for a layup. Despite Durant's ability to score as a leader whenever he pleases, he trusted in his players but hijacked the game when necessary to be a beneficiary for the Thunder. Unselfish and realizing it takes a team effort Durant kindly shared the ball as everyone touched it.

With enough depth and star power, Westbrook hurled shots, Harden was aggressive to the rim and Nick Collison dominated the glass. The pressure is not such a bad thing when a superstar as good as Durant has a supporting cast he can rely on in the event that he's a no-show because of an off night in shooting. It's clear most credit needs to be given to Thunder head coach Scott Brooks for finding ways to make adjustments for Games 3 and 4, where Oklahoma City climbed back into the Western Conference Finals. Even without Durant, though, the Spurs were still shoved around for mainly three quarters. But then -- suddenly -- the Thunder's primary scorer stole the show.

That would be Durant, of course.

This is because he puts in the work, time and effort. This is because he's dedicated to the game. This is because he's willing to improve after each game, avoiding criticism or even praise to modify his level of play by his work ethic and staying active in practice to tweak his flaws. For the biggest game of his career, he was not only a playmaker but he also quickly emerged into one of the great scorers.

He's played his best in the biggest moments, and so has his team collectively.