“I just wanted to be that guy,” KD told TNT shortly after he helped will the Thunder to the franchise’s first playoff series victory with a 100-97 Game 5 win over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.
Durant was that guy and then some in the series clincher, especially in the fourth quarter when he scored 16 of his team’s final 20 points to help rally the Thunder from a nine-point deficit with three minutes to play. One basket in particular prompted TNT studio analyst Charles Barkley to say that “only God” could stop a player with the size, agility and talent as Durant. It sure seemed like it in Game 5.
Durant’s memorable fourth quarter included a pretty assist out of a double team to James Harden, who drilled a three-pointer to tie the game and further stymied the Nuggets’ plan of attack against KD.
“We tried to double on the pick-and-rolls, but it was mostly one-on-one,” Denver coach George Karl said. “I think when (James) Harden made that 3 to tie it, it took our confidence from doubling a little bit. (Durant) made some pretty difficult shots.”
More out of KD: there was a clutch three-point play after finishing strong in the lane with contact. He provided the icing as well, swishing a dribble pull-up from the top of the key with five seconds to go on the shot clock that gave the Thunder a three-point lead with 12 seconds to go. And for good measure, KD blocked J.R. Smith’s attempt to tie the game just three seconds left.
After KD made that play, he pumped his fists in the air and scowled in affirmation, putting his emotions out there for all to see just like he always does. Emotions raw, passion and desire to win unbridled. That’s KD.
This was Durant’s second 41-point game of the series, as the league’s two-time regular season scoring leader reached that mark in Game 1.
And KD did it on 14-for-27 shooting to go with five rebounds, two assists, a steal, two blocks and zero turnovers. Those zero turnovers might have been the most underrated stat of the night in game in which the Thunder committed 14 turnovers.
Cutting back on turnovers has been a goal of Durant’s since the season’s onset and the two-time All-Star forward has shown progress in that area throughout his second postseason. In last year’s first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers, Durant committed 3.67 turnovers a game. In five games against Denver in this year’s opening round, he averaged just 1.4 a game.
It was about as dominant and complete of a performance as we’ve seen from Durant this season. KD said teammates Royal Ivey and Nate Robinson were blunt with him on the bench.
“Go take the game over. It’s your time,’” Durant recalled them saying. “My teammates did a great job of finding me in the right spots so I could make some shots…. Russell looked at me and said, â€˜This is what you do.’”
If you want to judge KD on progress, then look no further than last year’s playoff stats compared to this year’s.
A year ago, Durant averaged 25 points on 35 percent shooting, 7.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists in six games against the Lakers.
This season, with another year of experience under him and fresh off one of his busiest summers, one in which he led USA Basketball to a gold medal at the World Championship, Durant has only gotten better as the season has wore on.
In five games against the Nuggets, he averaged 32.4 points on 47.1 percent shooting, 5.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.0 steals.
He showed why he’s a two-time All-Star and has led the league in scoring in consecutive seasons. He showed why he’s continued to evolve into one of the game’s elite players. And he picked up right where he left off from the end of the regular season, when he was named the Western Conference Player of the Month yet again.
Moving forward, all we know for sure is we’ll be treated to yet another playoff round of watching Kevin Durant mature on the game’s biggest stage. And if you’re a fan, you couldn’t ask for more.