“They made plays down the stretch, and we didn’t,” said Kevin Durant, 2014 NBA MVP and star of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Durant was talking about the San Antonio Spurs, who had just sent the Thunder home in six games, denying KD and his teammates the chance to avenge their 2012 NBA Finals loss against the Miami Heat. While the popular criticism will fall on his explosive cohort Russell Westbrook, aka the Point Godzilla – as well as Thunder head coach Scott Brooks — there comes a point when at least some of the blame has to fall on Kevin Durant. Even if he is a joy to watch, and seems like a really nice guy.
It would be lazy to say that Durant simply needs to play better in key games — as anyone who is regularly involved with any activity at all knows, there are days when you have it, and days when you don’t. For some people, the splits are different (there are very few days, for example, when Durant will shoot 6-16, like he did in Game 2, or finish with an astonishing +/- of -22, like he did in Game 5), but success in something like basketball is subject to capricious whims of forces beyond all control: a fancy way of saying that the ball doesn’t always land in the basket. It would be similarly ineffective to say that Durant needs to be more aggressive — that’s fitting a square peg into a round hole. We can wish for him to pick up the attitude of a Lance Stephenson all day, but that’s not going to happen.
What Durant needs — and the entire Oklahoma City offense — is to be more exploitative. While KD is right that “without a doubt, [the team has] grown, top to bottom,” their offense still too often resembles a hellish variation of the Princeton where nobody makes any kind of cut, and everyone just stands on the perimeter. San Antonio was able to switch Tony Parker onto Durant without much fear because they knew Durant and his teammates wouldn’t have schemes in place in order to get Durant, the best shooter in the game, the ball at all costs. Durant, aside from an exaggerated gesture or two, would just kind of deal with it. If Durant has a mismatch, he needs to recognize it, and he needs to make sure his teammates recognize it. If his teammates can’t make the pass, Durant needs to get better at getting open. Maybe Thabo Sefolosha should punch him next practice.