Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) reacts to no foul call on a 3-point basket attempt against the Memphis Grizzlies in the second half of Game 2 on May in Oklahoma City. The Grizzlies won 99-93. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Out on the hardwood, with the lights shining its brightest on his lone star, just how lonely is it to be Kevin Durant these days?
During the same time last year, he was battling the same team with Russell Westbrook and James Harden en route to a series win in seven games. A year later, after the questionable Harden trade, and a freak Westbrook injury, Durant finds himself needing to lead his team to three straight wins to get back to the Western Conference Finals.
Even after losing Harden to the trade, the Thunder looked to be the biggest threat to a Miami repeat. Now that Kevin Durant has to seemingly do it all for the Thunder just to even compete with a seasoned Grizzlies team, who’s a much better version of themselves, it would take a legendary three-game stretch from Durant to get closer to even sniffing the Heat.
The Grizzlies have had to play their A-game to get to this 3-1 series lead against their conquerors from last year, and could have already been in the West Finals had it not been for a string of crucial turnovers in Game 1. But make no mistake about it, even with Durant needing to make all the plays, as well as taking even more of the scoring load, the Thunder have been in there in all three losses. They are still a very good team, it’s just that with the absence of the irrepressible Russell Westbrook, the Grizz have been just a tad bit better.
It doesn’t help that the supposed second-best player on the active Thunder roster, Serge Ibaka, is shooting under 35 percent from the field, while being thoroughly outplayed by Zach Randolph. It doesn’t help when Durant misses 17 of his 27 shots (with only seven shots in the paint), and takes only three free throws in a Game 4 overtime loss. And it definitely doesn’t help when their starting center, who has averaged 25 minutes in the series, averages 2.5 point and 4.5 rebounds while making just 15.8 percent of his shots.
Again, as subpar as the individual Thunder performances have been, they’ve had a shot of winning every game of the series. But finding themselves needing to sweep the last three remaining games, have dug themselves too deep of a hole against a team that’s due for redemption?
Durant has been great with all eyes on him (30.8 points per game, 11 rebounds and 6.8 assists in the series), but he has to be better. That’s the tricky part about being a transcendent talent, people will always be expecting more. Durant recently said he’s tired of being second, now he’ll be lucky just to get out of the second round.