Kevin Durant is the Thunder’s front man. There’s no disputing it, but he’s always had a super group around him. Sam Presti was the “Birdman” to the OKC Hot Boys featuring James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Like Weezy, Durant took top billing over his three cohorts.
Ironically, it was a lack of cash, money that forced the Thunder to cut bait with Harden, who’s proven himself to be a rock star in his first season out from under Durant’s shadow. The absence of his hype man Westbrook forced Kevin Durant to rock the stage solo dolo.
Durant is an a future Hall of Famer, but aside from his rookie season in Seattle, Game 3 was one of the first times we’ve witness him eschew efficiency and embrace quantity over quality in his shot selection. Saturday night, Durant was forced to shift over from the wing to become the Thunder’s full-time point forward..
LeBron James endured a similar fate during his Cleveland years as the sole progenitor of the Cavs offense. During his first seven seasons, he was Michael among a roster of Titos creating offense on his own.
Durant’s first half without Westbrook pounding the rock up the floor was an auspicious sign for the Thunder. In the first half, Durant’s 27 points were a playoff career-high as he played all 24 minutes and attempted more field goals than he had in all of Game 1.
At halftime, Durant had a sociopathic focus in his eyes as he explained to ESPN’s Samantha Ponder how locked in he was and delivered a quick message of support to Westbrook. Unfortunately, in the third quarter, we found out how much Durant really missed his dawgs.
The two halves were night and day for the Thunder. In the second half, Harden bum rushed Durant’s solo show, hijacked the spotlight and debowed his mic. The Thunder’s 26-point lead turned into a chippy back and forth battle over the led in the fourth quarter. It took 11:27 minutes for Durant to score his first points of the third quarter and he shot 4-of-14 overall in the second half.
Fortunately, Ibaka made enough plays to hold off the Rockets until Durant could muster the energy to drain a three from the top of the key.
Ibaka’s a fine third wheel, but he’s no Harden, Westbrook or Bosh equivalent. Ultimately, he was put in a position to take pivotal shots down the stretch and he didn’t disappoint with 17 points to go along with 11 rebounds that supplemented Durant’s playoff career-high of 41 points in 47 minutes.
However, the Rockets defense doesn’t compare to the stifling units they’ll face in future rounds.
To get his game on the same plane as LeBron’s, Durant has to learn how to answer the gargantuan challenge for two halves every night for three more rounds against much tougher defenses without a setup man.
The Thunder will advance past Harden’s Rockets, but if Durant is tired of always being second as he claims, he’ll have to be the undisputed number one shot taker and creator for Oklahoma City. If he continues wearing down like did he did down the stretch on Saturday night, the Thunder will be lucky to even finish second in their own conference.