Kevin Durant struggled in Oklahoma City's 93-87 loss to Dallas in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals Saturday night. He made seven of 22 shots, and scored his 24 points with plenty of work at the free throw line and none from behind the arc, where he missed eight shots. This is, of course, cause for criticism of his ability to close.
Actually, NBA.com's Fran Blinebury asserts, it's not his ability to close that should be up for debate, but his desire.
For all the credit that he gets for being unfailingly polite and accommodating, there are times in games when Durant's got to have a bigger ego and demand a bigger say in the outcome.
The predictable Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant comparisons come just paragraphs later. After all, why can't a soft-spoken, humble, team-first star be more like two of the NBA's most legendary alpha male assassins? Doesn't Durant know that championships are for closers like Bryant, whose six-for-24 flailing in Game 7 of last year's Finals
nearly killed gave his Lakers a second consecutive NBA championship?
Part of the problem with Durant — and his oft-criticized teammate, Russell Westbrook — is how new and how unusual they are. Durant's a nearly seven-foot point forward with a pair of NBA scoring titles, but his handle can be suspect, his strength is forever questioned, and his lack of post game makes him a hybrid slasher/jump-shooter. Westbrook's a combo guard being asked to play point guard and coexist with Durant's prodigious scoring. And they both play for a Thunder team that's practically embryonic compared to most that make it to the conference finals.
So, naturally, we reach for old explanations and try to fit the new into old paradigms. That makes sense: it's much easier to explain with old teachings than learn new ones. But the Thunder seem like an exceptional case in a number of ways. Why couldn't Durant break the traditional closer mode, too?
It might behoove Durant to demand the ball more late. But it might also be good for the Thunder to make more shots and build leads rather than falling behind by 23 in the second quarter. Reaching for the most obvious explanation doesn't make it right.