OKLAHOMA CITY – A national TV audience saw the future of the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday afternoon.
And it sure looked like Kevin Durant saw it, too.
While the rest of us took note, took notice and were amazed and mesmerized, Durant actually did something about it.
We saw the Thunder fail last season in the playoffs when Durant failed. And this season we’ve seen them soar when he’s soared.
It happened again Sunday. Durant is good enough to win games on his own, and when he senses his team is in trouble, like they were against the Knicks, he took all of it upon himself. There was no mistaking it. Completely obvious.
And he should do it again when it really counts – in the playoffs.
The Thunder beat the Knicks on Sunday 112-100, but the game was played within a few possessions nearly the whole way, including the two opening possessions of the fourth quarter when The Thunder’s Jeremy Lamb missed a 25-foot, step-back 3-pointer then Derek Fisher missed a runner in the lane. Durant not only didn’t shoot on either of the two trips down the floor, he didn’t touch the ball.
OKC didn’t’ need a timeout to figure things out. It got real simple. After Jeremy Tyler’s jumper pulled the Knicks to within six, Durant took over. Not just in the figurative sense, either. Durant took the in-bounds pass, brought the ball up the court, waved off everyone in sight, took an 18-foot jumper and saved the game.
OK, probably not that dramatic, the Thunder may have won anyway. But they may not have.
"He makes it look easy," Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony said. "When it gets it going like that, it’s hard to stop him."
On the next possession, Durant went right to the basket for a layup. The next time down, Durant passed off to Jeremy Lamb who blew a runner in the lane, and after a Durant rebound, he went to the basket once more, was fouled and made both free throws. The Knicks didn’t get closer than eight points the rest of the way.
Thirteen points in all in the fourth quarter, six-of-six from the free throw line, three rebounds and a steal. The kind of finish that makes you think anything is possible as long as Durant has the ball. And for the game, 41 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and a pair of blocks. The kind of stat sheet that’s become common in the past month.
But really it was the kind of performance that makes you think the more Durant has the ball, the better off the team will be. Certainly coach Scott Brooks wouldn’t endorse this kind of thinking. The Thunder are about team and Brooks is a company man all the way. No crime in that.
"I have to rely on my teammates," Durant said, picking up where Brooks has never left off. "I just try to get better each and every day and learn from my mistakes."
Yet, the biggest mistake might be not doing enough. Durant tried it last year, but it burned the Thunder in their five-game series loss to Memphis in the second round of the playoffs where he repeatedly ran out of energy. That likely won’t likely happen again. Not only will Durant have help from the return of Russell Westbrook, who was out last year in the playoffs, but Durant is also loaded with the knowledge that because of this season, this past January and this hero streak he’s on, he’s good enough to go end-to-end, pass when he wants and shoot when he wants.
Durant finished up 12-of-22 from the field against a Knicks team that was disinterested in defense. Not his best game, but still better than most anyone else’s, further proving the point he can take over even when he’s not stellar.
"He was good tonight," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. "Real good."
"He obviously is a tremendous teammate," Brooks said. "Offensive player, playmaker, but he impacts the game defensively. I think this year he’s getting some credit for what he does.
"He’s everything you want in an NBA player."
Yes, Durant is. We knew that already and we saw it again Sunday.