It has been one of, if not THE most talked about issue in the first round playoff series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies – how mightily Kevin Durant has struggled.
The “darling” of the NBA throughout a stellar regular season (one that should see him named the MVP), many have been quick to go on the attack and to criticize his performances so far in the series. The Thunder trail the Memphis Grizzlies 3-2 and face a sudden death game at the Grindhouse and all eyes will be firmly on Durant as they try to stave off elimination. When the Thunder are losing, the fingers get pointed – a lot. Normally, the heat lands on Russell Westbrook or Scott Brooks, sometimes even Kendrick Perkins or the reserves – but rarely does it land at the feet of the franchise star.
It has this time, and those who rode his coattails and lauded his performances throughout 81 games in the regular season, the 25+ point games, the 30+ point games, the comparison to Michael Jordan etc have now gone silent, or worse, jumped off the bandwagon and onto the attack.
Durant averaged 32ppg, 7.4rpg, 5.5apg and shot the ball at 50% from the floor during the regular season on his way to another scoring title, and as mentioned, a likely Most Valuable Player trophy. In the playoffs though, Durant has been faced with a ferocious defensive focus from one of the leagues best defensive groups and specifically Tony Allen, one of the games strongest and best defenders. Playoff life hasn’t been easy, and KD has seen those regular season numbers dip. Throughout the first 5 games of this playoff series, Durant is averaging “just” 28ppg (on 40% shooting), 9.8rpg and 4apg.
A great deal of focus is on Durant because the Thunder find themselves trailing in the series. For a player who was transcendent throughout the regular season, the fans clearly expect more – and not wrongfully so. However, while Durant has struggled from the field, he is not the sole reason for the Thunder being behind heading in to a Game 6. Credit needs to be given to Tony Allen and the Grizzlies for the determination and dedication to slowing one of the best players in the game. The Thunder also have to take some blame because they are not knocking down shots or providing much support to their superstar. The slow starts, the missed jump shots, the continued long range bombing – it is all just lazy basketball and won’t win you games or playoff series’.
With the eyes of the world all furiously burning a hole in the back of the Thunder’s #35, Kevin Durant needs to step up and hit this one out of the park. He has been tormented, manhandled and bullied into tough shots all series long, but he still has a chance to make things right. With a huge Game 6 performance, he can bring the Thunder back from the brink of elimination, take them back home to Chesapeake Arena and once again become loved and adored by the “fair weather” fans.
Kevin Durant needs a solid game. The Thunder need it from him. No-one wants to be the #2 seed that goes home early and the Thunder are no exception. For Durant, he will also be wanting to break free of the criticism he has faced – something that would be irking him and a situation he has really yet to experience throughout his career. He will want to tie this series up, head home and get ready to close it out.
In order to do that though, Durant has to change his mindset. He needs that “KD is not nice” attitude. The snarl, the glare. He needs that chip on his shoulder.
Durant has made a living at the foul line, but in this series, he has attempted more three point shots than free throws. This is an alarming figure as is means the Grizzlies have taken Durant out of his natural game – and that KD is letting them. Durant is almost unstoppable when on his game, but he hasn’t been in that space in this series. Game 6 could change all that.
Kevin Durant will be laying it all bare in the Thunder’s Game 6 showdown against the Grizzlies in Memphis. Tune in. You can’t keep champion players down for long – and this might just be the occasion needed to get the champ up off the canvas.