Durant proves again it’s all about the finish

OKLAHOMA CITY — If you can, try for a just a minute to wrap your mind around the fact
that heading into Wednesday’s fourth quarter, Kevin Durant had the same
number of shot attempts as Serge Ibaka.

Let that marinate. Swish it around. Get a good taste.

This
one was on Durant. All of it. If the Thunder lose Game 2, he gets
absolutely torched and picked apart by everyone with a microphone,
camera or Internet access. And the rest of the talk is about how the
Lakers now have home-court advantage and a shot in the series, and how
the Thunder looked like they came undone.

This one was on Durant. And in the last 2 minutes, he came out of the phone booth and saved the day.

Oklahoma
City’s star shined brightest when he needed to, and the result was a
phenomenal 77-75 comeback victory and a 2-0 chokehold in the Western
Conference semifinals.

Trailing 75-68 with 2:08 left, the Thunder
wrapped up the game on a 9-0 run driven by Durant, who scored five of
his 22 points, including the game-winner on 7-foot floater with 18.6
seconds left.

“I came out and tried to be aggressive,” said
Durant, who had just eight shots in three quarters. “Making the right
play. People talk about how I score the ball. They don’t look at me on
the other end. This playoff run I’ve been picking it up. Just trying to
get my hands on the ball. My teammates believe in me and sometimes it’s
not about shooting all the shots.”

A night earlier, the Miami Heat
trusted the last shot to Mario Chalmers. You know how that turned out.
On Wednesday the Lakers handed the game over to Steve Blake for the last
shot. Blake was left wide open behind the 3-point arc on an inbounds
play with 5 seconds left, and Metta World Peace found him, but Blake’s 3
clanked off the iron.

And now you know how and when the 2012 season came to an end for Los Angeles.

Kobe
Bryant, who had 20 points on 9-of-25 shooting, was visibly upset after
not getting the ball and didn’t even try to foul Durant, who ended up
with the ball, did get fouled and sealed the win with 1 of 2 free
throws.

“He’s a great player,” Lakers coach Mike Brown said of
Durant. “He had a great game, especially the last 2 minutes. Defensively
and offensively. He was huge for them. Give him credit. Big shot. Great
presence down the stretch.”

That same presence Brown was talking
about was seen in Game 1 of the first round against Dallas when Durant
and the Thunder struggled before whipping the Mavericks in the final
moments, rallying and then winning on Durant’s jumper with about 1
second left.

On Wednesday he did it again — albeit after “overpassing” for most of the night, he acknowledged.

Thunder
coach Scott Brooks said he likes the fact Durant likes to get his
teammates involved and likes the fact Durant is looking to pass. But
Brooks conceded Durant might have been passing a bit too much.

But
not when it counted the most. First, he limited Kobe, then he won the
game. His steal and breakaway dunk with 1:48 left cut the lead to three.
After James Harden blocked Bryant’s 16-foot jumper, Harden finished on
the other end and the lead was just one. Kobe missed another shot and
the Thunder got the ball and called time out.

“Kevin has really
improved as a two-way player,” Brooks said. “I think that is what has
taken our team to a different level and it takes his game to a different
level.”

Durant’s drive and shot in the final moments, with a soft touch to get the roll, was the stuff of superstars.

“I’ve
had so many bad times in the fourth quarter,” Durant said. “Through
those times I learned. You want to make that last shot. You want to take
it.

“It’s not like I was missing every shot I took,” a defensive
Durant said when asked about his struggles. “I trusted every shot. I
was 9 for 15 and I let the game come to me. Sometimes not shooting is a
good shot.”

Well, the Thunder didn’t make a lot of those shots
he passed on, either. They were just 11 of 33 in the second half,
managed all of one offensive rebound and turned it over eight times —
double the amount they had in all of Game 1.

That suggests the
Thunder don’t need to play that well to get by this Laker team. But the
closer look showed Durant as the superstar, bailing his team out of a
potential disastrous ending.

“It’s about fighting to the end,”
Durant said. “We were playing tough. Coach told us we could do it. We
came out and made plays.”