When an NBA team is underachieving or isn't quite meeting expectations on any level—be it the playoffs, regular season or Finals—the superstar is the one who inevitably takes the blame. Sometimes the bench, sometimes the coach, but usually, it's the superstar.
Oddly, in this year's Finals, after their Game 2 and 3 losses, the Oklahoma City Thunders' critics unabashedly ripped Russell Westbrook, including Magic Johnson calling him the "worst point guard in Finals history."
For the casual observer, the problems the Thunder face, on the most rudimentary scale, can be summarized as Westbrook shoots too much, and Kevin Durant doesn't shoot enough.
A superstar who can score at will and is the most talented player on his team isn't taking over like he should, but instead letting his star guard take the reins. Well, that player shouldn't be blamed, right? Not Kevin Durant, right?
Well, didn't we just see what happened in last year's LeBron James hate-a-thon? In last year's 2011 Finals, critics ripped LeBron for coming up short in the clutch by not demanding the ball. Dwyane Wade, for his heroics and toughness, was largely absolved of any blame, however.
Why is it that this year Kevin Durant gets a media pass? Why hasn't there been an inkling of blame held to Durant? Don't we talk about him as the future of the league, or one of it's best players? My colleagues compare Durant's clutch ability to a young Kobe Bryant's.
Heck, Kobe basically said (per HoopsVibe.com), "Kevin Durant is a 6'11' me." Shouldn't this guy be held to a higher standard than attempting just three shots in the last eight minutes of this game? Clutch players come up in big games, and I'd say a game in which most media pundits coin it "a must-win" is a pretty big game.
I'm not gonna sit here and type out that Durant is a choker, or not clutch or his performance mirrors that of LeBron's in last year's Finals. For you stat-geeks who want to throw numbers in the conversation for why Durant is clutch, I get it. ESPN reports that Durant shoots 60 percent in the last minute of fourth quarters and overtimes when the game is within five points.
But I'm not talking about numbers. To me, being clutch is an esoteric quality that only a select few have, and it comes with more than shooting a high percentage in the waning moments, or making a certain percentage of your "game-winning" shots.
Part of being clutch is demanding and wanting the ball in the final moments. Part of being clutch is that moment when there are four minutes left and the other team's eyes are all on you.
Durant doesn't make me feel that way; yet last night, everyone on the Heat was worried about Westbrook. Durant did make a good jumper over Wade, but that's about it in the final minutes. He didn't demand or bark for the ball the way a Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or Carmelo Anthony does when the game is on the line.
People keep wanting to talk about how Westbrook needs to shoot less and Durant needs to shoot more. Maybe Westbrook isn't the problem. Maybe it isn't Coach Brooks who is the problem. Maybe it's Durant's unwillingness to exude the alpha-dog swagger that says, "I can score at will, give me the freakin' ball when it matters."
I don't see how it's any different than when critics implore LeBron to drive to the basket more.