I was ready. For the first time I can ever remember, I was ready.
I was ready to rip on Kevin Durant.
As Oklahoma City’s offense threw up all over itself in the second half of Game 2 he was strangely passive, kicking out off drives, not looking to score and just sort of floating. With six minutes left in the fourth, he had taken only nine shots. Nine!
But that’s why you don’t question KD. It was a big moment and his team needed something from him. So he showed up. Should’ve known.
He scored five of the Thunder’s final nine points as the Thunder closed on a 9-0 run to improbably, impossibly, incredibly take Game 2 right out from under the Lakers’ feet.
“It’s tough to find a real balance, especially in the playoffs,” Durant said. “I remember Game 1 and 2 against Dallas I was shooting too much. Trying to find my shot. Game 3 I let it come to me and find our guys. Maybe tonight I was over-passing but I think it freed me up a little in the fourth to make that shot. But I’m going to continue play off my teammates and shoot when I’m supposed to and be aggressive in the fourth.”
It’s like Durant’s game made complete sense all of a sudden. Like someone had shown me the secrets of the universe and I understood. For the first 42 minutes, I was wondering where he was, why he wasn’t trying to take over, why he wasn’t owning this game and stepping up when the Thunder needed it. But that’s because I’m an idiot, and he’s Kevin Durant. He knew with possessions being worth their weight in gold that he couldn’t force things. He tried one pull-up 3 with 2:29 left that was definitely forced. It was almost like he needed that one to just feel like himself again.
The game Durant played wasn’t his typical kind of night with 30 points on 22 shots, but it also was incredibly efficient. He finished with 22 points on 15 shots in a game with a pace of 85.0. That’s essentially a 30-point-on-22-shot game in a regularly paced affair. He was probably giving it up a bit too much at times, but like he said, you’re trying to make sure everything is in rhythm, that it’s unforced. It’s not as easy as just pulling up over someone from 22 feet and dropping a sweet jumper. KD makes it seem ridiculously simple that way at times, which is why I think we expect to see it.
“It’s a fine line,” said Scott Brooks about Durant’s passing. “I was having trouble telling him this, but he was looking to pass too much tonight. Do you tell your players to stop passing? But he was passing up good looks to get the same look.”
There’s something to be said for showing up in those moments. KD has something in him, where he’s not going to back down. I’m resisting the urge to mention another fantastic player right here that doesn’t seem to have that same something. Whereas he floats and often doesn’t snap out of it, Durant had no trouble waking up. And it’s not even as if he had to snap out of something. It’s just like he said, “OK, fine, now I got this.”
It took a lot though for the Thunder to even give Durant the chance to rescue them again. The Thunder trailed by seven with 2:08 left looking dead in the water and about to give away a most disappointing Game 2. They were 7-27 from the field in the second half and had re-introduced the halfcourt offense from hell that was based around isolation, turnovers and missed jumpers. Scott Brooks called timeout, and sent his boys back on to the floor.
James Harden immediately responded with a much-needed driving layup. 75-70. Ten seconds later, KD used his go-go-gadget arms to snatch a pass from Kobe and take it to the other end for a dunk. 75-72. Harden came up with a huge block on Kobe, then immediately turned around to hit another difficult layup. 75-74. Another stop and there the Thunder were with the ball, down one, 30 seconds left.
They had been here before. And just like Game 1 against Dallas, the rim played friend to KD, swirling his baseline Doodle Jump jumper in to put OKC up a point with 18 seconds left. The Lakers tried to isolate Kobe on Thabo, wasted a ton of time, Thabo took OKC’s foul to give with five seconds left and the ball found Steve Blake in the corner for an open 3, to which he clanged.
There’s one thing you can definitely see in this Thunder team though — they’ve grown. They’re tough as nails, built out of guts, heart, whiskey, more guts, adamantium and a little bit of dynamite. They’re one gritty group. To find it within to pull out games like these, while somewhat disconcerting see as, say, the Spurs won’t be as forgiving, still is extraordinarily impressive. They’ve built up pressure equity, where they believe as a group they can pull it off no matter the circumstance. They know someone is going to make a play. They know someone is going to get it done. They believe in self, and each other. It’s an incredible quality to have in a team, and the kind of intangible that’s necessary in a playoff run. These boys have grown up.
2-0, Thunder. Somehow.
- Something has to be said about the Thunder’s defense too. KD reaps the glory, but Perk’s denial on Bynum was outstanding, Harden was wonderful on Kobe, KD switched onto Kobe and did terrific work and most important, the Thunder rebounded. The number one thing that Steve Blake 3 was missing was a Pau Gasol tip-in. But OKC got a body on him this time.
- KD on his airballed free throw: “That was a bonehead play by me.” Indeed it was. What it did was open the game back up. If Durant had made it, the game was over with the Lakers not having a timeout. The plan to miss it was a good one, because there was no way they could rebound the ball and get a shot up with 0.3 seconds. But airballing was worst case scenario. Though super slim, it gave the Lakers a chance. They had to throw it full court for a tip-in, but OKC could’ve fouled, going for the ball, which would’ve put the Lakers at the line.
- KD on switching to guard Kobe: “Late in the fourth, it was just time. Coach told me to switch out on him and I just tried to use my length a little bit and play hard. He makes those tough shots and he missed some tonight. But he is good in the fourth no matter who is guarding him. He is going to try and take a shot. It’s all about playing hard.”
- The Thunder are a hyperphysical team. When the officiating tightens down, it makes it difficult for them to defend without getting whistled. This thing turned into a foulfest for a little bit and while the Thunder got the short end, they also benefited from a number of calls as well. What hurt was that the Thunder had a number of guys in foul trouble, which made it difficult for Brooks to manage minutes late.
- Serge Ibaka was a monster. Coming from the weakside to swat Bynum, helping everywhere, contesting. He could be the best defensive player in the league. He has the ability.
- Despite the game feeling like there were a ton of whistles, the Thunder shot only 16 free throws and the Lakers 14.
- After turning it over four times in Game 1, OKC did that in the first quarter of Game 2. Still, only 13 for the game, which is solid for the Thunder.
- Winning this type of game is exactly what I have harped on. You have to be able to find ways to win when it doesn’t all work. Westbrook was 5-17. Harden 3-8. KD wasn’t getting looks. It wasn’t easy. But the Thunder found stops, rebounds and points when they had to have them. This game showed us something.
- KD’s final line: 22 points on 9-15, seven rebounds, five assists. Great all-around game.
- Kobe on OKC’s late game defense: “They just made gambles and they just jumped in the passing lane. That’s not something we’re not accustomed to seeing. It was just flat out risks defensively. Jumping in the passing lane in front of the ball. Durant did it and got a steal. Westbrook did it and caused a turnover. It was a little unconventional but we’ll make our adjustments in Game 3.”
- Evidently Kobe thinks there’s an adjustment for everything.
- Major, major props to OKC’s game ops people for showing lots of replays of controversial calls. That doesn’t always happen. Normally you get a lone replay and that’s it. But they were showing three and four slo-mo replays of tight calls.
- KD and Russ were dressed interestingly again after the game. Westbrook with his Grandmama glasses, KD wearing a Miami Vice look.
- Thunder dunk power rankings: 1. Nick Collison reverses 2. Russell Westbrook left-handers 3. Cole Aldrich celebratorys.
- Kobe started the game out on Thabo, with Ramon Sessions on Westbrook. I guess it kind of worked, but I don’t really know. I think it was an effort to save Kobe’s legs for the offensive end a bit.
- Harden caught Metta World Peace with a small elbow in the first half. Unintentional, but kind of sweet.
- Mike Brown said he thought Kobe was open on the final play. Yeah, he most definitely was not. Steve Blake was. And as Scott Brooks said, “We got lucky that he missed that shot.”
- Of note: The next two games are back-to-back. That favors the Thunder big time.
- Critique for the temporary PA guy: Don’t pronounce Thunder so well. He says it, “Thun-durrrrr.” Less on that R, please.
- The blue and white mix was solid.
Next up: Game 3 in LA Friday.