Kevin Durant hasn't always been Kevin Durant during the 2014 postseason, even though he was able to spark a 104-84 victory for the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 6 of their first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Hounded by Memphis guard Tony Allen and the rest of a suffocating Grit-and-Grind defense, the league's leading scorer has experienced uncharacteristic struggles throughout the series, and it hasn't exactly failed to register with the general public.
He's even been called "Mr. Unreliable" by one of his local newspapers.
While the Thunder did manage to even up the series and force a Game 7 with their dominant performance on Thursday night, Durant still wasn't able to completely dispel the notion that he was—gasp—unreliable for his team, even with a 36-point, 10-rebound outing against the Grizzlies.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Durant and "unreliable" were used in the same sentence/phrase over the past few days, and there weren't any contradictory words to make the meaning fall in line with what we're used to thinking.
That shouldn't continue now that Game 6 has come and gone, but KD still has work to do when attempting to justify the MVP honor he seems almost certain to be awarded in the near future.
Heading into Game 6, Durant was averaging 28 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists per contest during the postseason, which seems excellent on the surface level. However, he was forcing up attempts and missing plenty of looks from all areas of the court.
Just look at his percentages compared to the ones he posted before the playoffs began:
Obviously, that's not exactly what we've come to expect from Durant. Perhaps he was just insanely tired from shouldering an exorbitant offensive load for OKC throughout the bulk of the season. Regardless of the reason, he was clearly struggling.
Unsurprisingly, that "Mr. Unreliable" headline from The Oklahoman caused a stir, even to the point where the paper issued an official apology to the Thunder superstar.
However, that happened after Durant's family and some of his teammates had a chance to respond.
His mom chimed in:
Typical Oklahoman on Kevin. UNBELIEVABLE!! KEVIN is RELIABLE!!!— Wanda Pratt (@MamaDurant) May 1, 2014
So too did his brother:
Mr. Unreliable huh? Smh!!!!!!— IM ME!!!!! (@LifeOfTonyD35) May 1, 2014
According to Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, Russell Westbrook had to make his voice heard as well:
Westbrook on the headline: "That's BS in my eyes."— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) May 1, 2014
Interestingly enough, Durant actually seemed okay with it:
Durant on The Oklahoman's headline: "That's what they're supposed to write. I didn't come through for the team."— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) May 1, 2014
Perhaps it's because he knew that he deserved the headline, was capable of bouncing back from his series-long struggles and was not only capable of bouncing back, but also confident that he would do so.
Thursday night, he had a chance to speak volumes without even saying a word.
Did Durant Make a Statement?
Technically, anything Durant did during the 20-point victory would've been a statement, but Durant just wasn't interested in responding to The Oklahoman's headline in any old fashion.
He presumably wanted to submit a performance that would leave everyone's jaws on the floor for the umpteenth time during the 2013-14 campaign.
At first, it seemed as though he would do exactly that.
During the first quarter alone, the forward exploded for 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field, helping the Thunder begin the game with an eight-point edge after just 12 minutes.
He was consistently able to work his way into the paint, lofting up floaters, mid-range jumpers and layups at the expense of the Memphis defense.
The great start wouldn't last, though.
Durant 0-for-5 in the third quarter after going 7-for-13 in the first half.— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) May 2, 2014
Durant scored 22 points during the remaining three quarters, and he didn't exactly rest during the fourth quarter once the game was out of hand. To record those 22, the future MVP shot 5-of-13 from the field, and six of the eight misses came from beyond the arc.
Durant's starting to settle too much with the jumper again.— Royce Young (@royceyoung) May 2, 2014
His aggressiveness did allow him to spend plenty of time at the charity stripe, but it's rather troubling that Durant wasn't able to get off the schneid with his perimeter jumper.
Only two of his five makes in the final three quarters came from outside the paint, and that 0-of-6 mark from downtown isn't exactly a positive.
Durant's final line will be viewed in favorable light, though. As it should be. It won't hurt that he knocked down this shot late enough in the game that it'll be a lasting impression for anyone who was still tuned in:
Durant's performance Thursday was significantly better than it has been in recent weeks. However, digging deeper almost nullifies Durant's statement, as he wore down and couldn't get that pesky jumper to fall.
It was a statement, but it wasn't enough of one. Not yet, at least.
He needs to torch Allen for that to change, and a torching didn't exactly happen during this game.
Enter Tony Allen. Durant scored 10 on 5-for-8 shooting with him on the bench.— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) May 2, 2014
Kevin Durant is shooting 50 percent with Tony Allen on the bench, 36 percent with Allen on the court in this series.— Dan Feldman (@PistonPowered) May 2, 2014
It's worth noting that I'm intentionally picking nits.
Durant's performance was a sensational one, especially given the must-win circumstances for OKC. All I'm doing is analyzing a few signs that he's not back in peak form quite yet, even if he dropped a 36-spot against the vaunted Memphis defense.
And there's one more major positive.
Win Matters Most
Ultimately, only one number matters: seven.
By beating the Grizzlies—by 20 points, no less—the Thunder forced Game 7 in this opening-round series, and it's a contest that will be played within the friendly confines of Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.
Durant could've shot 0-of-20 from the field and fouled out by halftime. So long as the Thunder ultimately ended up emerging from Game 6 in victorious fashion, it would've been all right.
KD on any extra motivation from the headline: "I'm not going to give them credit for nothing. We were down 3-2. We needed to win this game."— Royce Young (@royceyoung) May 2, 2014
However, Durant didn't exactly perform poorly.
Instead, he was one of the driving forces behind the blowout victory. The Thunder outscored the opposition by 27 points when KD was on the court, and that was largely due to his ability to draw defensive attention.
Durant was commanding double-teams when he didn't even have the ball.
Who does that? How many players in basketball history have received that kind of defensive attention?
There's presumably only a handful, and Durant was made a part of that exclusive fraternity even though he'd been struggling with his shot over the course of the last five games.
Now that is respect.
Will Durant build upon this performance in Game 7?
Maybe he still isn't shooting the ball as efficiently as he did during his red-hot streak in the middle of the regular season. Maybe he's settling for too many jumpers instead of picking and choosing his spots wisely. Maybe he's not playing like an MVP with the ball in his hands.
But whenever Durant is on the court, the Thunder are significantly better. Even when he's not scoring, he's helping his team stave off elimination, thereby giving him one more chance for a vintage KD performance.
What could be more reliable than that?