OKLAHOMA CITY– We’ve never seen Kevin Durant like this.
For that matter, I bet Kevin Durant has never seen Kevin Durant like this before.
While Thunder higher-ups insisted Durant wasn’t sick or hurt, and Durant said the same, it sure looked like he was one or the other, or both, Wednesday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Sluggish and disengaged. Noticeably struggling and frustrated. Worse than a teenager on a Monday morning.
“It was a slow start and I turned the ball over too many times,” he said. “I don’t care who you are, if you have confidence issues and turn the ball over, you get down on yourself.”
Head hanging and a definite slowness to his game. Here’s why:
Durant was 1-for-3 in the first quarter with a pair of turnovers. Durant had eight points, seven shots and six turnovers in the first half. He pulled on his shorts more than he pulled up for jumpers. He looked at the scoreboard more than he looked at his teammates.
No way he was himself.
“He had a bad start,” coach Scott Brooks said. “That definitely is not himself. He didn’t play well. He had a bad first half, but he gets through it by charging forward and playing like he’s capable of playing. I definitely wanted to get him some open looks in the third quarter. You guys know and I know, he’s one of the best scorers in the game.”
Maybe that’s why the start was so baffling.
But as Durant came out of the locker room for the second half, an elderly lady slipped from her seat near the court and Durant was the first responder helping her up.
Give him an assist on that and give him a gold star for the second half, because Durant scored the first five points of the third quarter and nine of the first 11. He had 23 points and 10 rebounds, and just two turnovers in the second half, as well as a smile.
Oh, and a game after falling apart defensively in a loss at San Antonio, the Thunder figured it out. And what looked like an off night for Durant, turned fairly productive, but the Thunder didn’t really need him in the 110-87 walk-over of Utah.
So, while a slower Durant is definitely a negative, Wednesday’s take-away has to be a positive for the Thunder. They led by 22 at halftime and righted some wrongs from Monday’s loss at San Antonio as well as got a bit of their edge back from a loss last month in Utah.
Quality minutes from the same bench that was shredded against the Spurs and quality defense throughout after allowing Utah only 35 percent shooting. No Jazz starters scored in double figures. The 24 turnovers by the Thunder are problematic, but blame some of that on the Jazz, who uglied things up from the beginning, the choppy pace of play as well as the five technical fouls and two mild skirmishes. Blame some of that on the score differential, too, as the Thunder never had to grind, press or really pay any attention to details.
So, while Durant said nothing was wrong except some broken confidence, the Thunder got right with their bench. Monday the bench was minus-83 against the Spurs. Wednesday, Kevin Martin had 15 points, Reggie Jackson had 12 and Derek Fisher had 10. Everyone played.
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Durant said. “Starts like that are needed some times to get you super-focused. That’s what I did in the third quarter – come out with a lot more focus and my teammates came out and set me up.”
Russell Westbrook took just 11 shots, finished with 19 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins were a defensive presence and the Thunder won a game they couldn’t afford to lose, getting to within a game of the Spurs for the top spot in the Western Conference.
The only issue is whether Durant will get a case of the blahs again any time soon. Brooks and Durant both said nothing was wrong with him, and you have to believe them when they say it, but the body language, lack of focus and energy from Durant in the first half was something rare.
“I was just upset with myself,” Durant said “I missed a few early shots and as a player you have to get through it.”
He did, but for the Thunder’s sake, hopefully it doesn’t happen again.