Does Kevin Durant deserve a pass for OKC Thunder being eliminated?
As Kevin Durant’s final shot of the season clanked off the back rim, the Oklahoma City Thunder‘s last-ditch effort to stay alive just wasn’t meant to be, and the Memphis Grizzlies advanced to the first Western Conference Final in franchise history.
Durant’s shot was the right one to take. Even though he had a clear path to the hoop, Durant making an open 16 foot jumper is something he typically could convert in his sleep.
Considering how bad KD was shooting the basketball on Wednesday, his missed final shot was an impractical ending to an impractical night. Durant ended up scoring 21 points while shooting 5 of 21 from the field. Yes, he also grabbed eight rebounds and dished out six assists, however it was all overshadowed by the seven turnovers he committed and the horrible shooting night that he had.
Although it was only one bad game, it was certainly a horrific way to end a playoff series. Especially one in which Kevin Durant was masterful in.
In the first four games of the series, Durant posted averages of 30.8 points, 11.0 boards and 6.8 assists while shooting 46.2 percent from the field, including 41.7 from beyond the arc. However, after his flop in Game 5, all the Durantula left us with are questions.
Questions like: Would the series of changed if Russell Westbrook was healthy? What could’ve happened if Durant connected on a couple more jumpers at the end of games?
And the ultimate question becomes: What does this series tell us about Durant, and is it fair for us too hold him mostly responsible for the Thunder losing versus such a talented Grizzlies team?
As for Durant’s production “in the clutch” (meaning performance in games during the fourth quarter or OT, with under five minutes remaining and a lead of five points or more is not being held by either team), he was more than lackluster.
Game 1 of the series was by far Kevin Durant’s best performance in the clutch. He scored eight points while shooting 4 of 5, including the go-ahead basket, and dished out one assist in the Thunder’s only win.
As the series progressed, he put up two points while shooting 1 of 4 in Game 2, just two points again while shooting 1 of 2 in Game 3 (including two misses from the free throw line), only three points while shooting 1 of 7 in Game 4 (which included the fourth quarter and OT) and zero points while going 0 of 2 in Game 5.
Putting Game 1 aside, Durant scored 15 points while shooting 7 of 20 from the field, and only 2 of 5 from the charity stripe “in the clutch.” Making only 35 percent of one’s shots during crunch time of a game is not impressive for Tony Allen, let alone KD.
Does this mean Durant is all of a sudden an un-clutch player that deserves heavy criticism, similar to what LeBron James experienced early on in his career? That seems a little extreme.
This was the first time since his rookie season that Durant had to play without his All-Star sidekick. If Westbrook was on the court with Durant for the past five games, they would have likely played out differently.
That is not saying that Oklahoma City would have unquestionably taken control of their NBA playoffs series, but it’s pretty safe to say that they would not have lost their last four games in a row. The Thunder duo has shown us what they are capable of, and Durant has shown us time and time again what he’s capable of also.
Without Russell Westbrook, Durant was up against a ferocious Grizzlies defense with the help of a spot-up shooter in Kevin Martin, an athletic, jump-shooting big man in Serge Ibaka, a 38-year-old guard in Derek Fisher and the not so seasoned Nick Collison. Not meaning to put down those guys, but there was clearly no true second option for KD to rely on helping relieve some of the pressure.
The Thunder series versus Memphis showed us what kind of player Durant truly is. It is not that the three-time scoring champ needs an entire team surrounding him that is capable of helping him out “in the clutch,” it is that he expects his teammates to be what they’ve been throughout the entire NBA season during “clutch” moments.
Many of Kevin Durant’s shots that he took late were when the shot clock was winding down. That’s not because he was obnoxiously dribbling as the clock ticked down, but rather because he was attempting very hard to get his teammates more involved, like Westbrook would.
In OKC’s rally attempt in Game 5, which fell short, Durant did not score one point. They dug themselves out of a 10-point deficit over a six minute span thanks to Martin, Ibaka, Fisher, Collison and Reggie Jackson.
KD was a key factor as well, dishing out four assists during those six minutes, with one more being cancelled out after K-Mart got fouled while heading to the basket. What this means is that not only did Durant fail “in the clutch,” but his teammates around him did also as he put too much trust in them.
Russell Westbrook makes everyone on the Thunder team better, mainly because he gives opposing defenses another player to focus a lot of their attention on.
It has been an absolute thunderstorm in OKC ever since Westbrook went down with a knee injury after the Thunder’s second postseason game. They undoubtedly did their best to fight through the loss, however the rain continues to pour.
After all of the high hopes heading into this NBA season, the way it ended for Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder is definitely a disappointment. But with that said, this team is still the best in the West when they are 100% healthy.
They will be back next year, ready to give it another go at the title, you can bet on that.