Kevin Durant steps up in Russell Westbrook's absence, but Thunder need help

Scott Halleran

Kevin Martin, Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka must do more for Oklohoma City to have a lengthy playoff run.

Most expected that without Russell Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder offense would be Kevin Durant, Kevin Durant and Kevin Durant. That wasn't exactly true in their first game without Westbrook, a 104-101 win over the Houston Rockets in Game 3 of the Western Conference quarterfinals, it wasn't far off.

Everything that the Thunder did offensively went through Durant. Early on, it was clear that Durant wanted to make a statement that his team was still a championship contender without Westbrook, going for 17 points in the first quarter as he hit from the outside and dunked over anyone in his way, including a poor Omer Asik. It was the ultimate statement quarter as Durant made it completely clear that the Thunder could still get buckets without their star point guard.

But that quarter and half was misleading.

As good as Durant is, he cannot do everything. Tasked with scoring, creating for his teammates, hitting the boards and making the right decision every single time down court, Durant eventually began to wilt under the impossible responsibilities.

The Thunder's 17-point halftime lead shrunk in the second half as they went just 5-for-25 from the field. Durant led the way with the rough shooting, making just one of six shots in the period as the tough, contested attempts of the first half stopped falling.

Durant could have looked elsewhere, but there wasn't much help to get. Without the added threat of Westbrook, the Rockets packed the paint. Serge Ibaka managed to find space on the interior, especially on the offensive glass, but otherwise, the paint was shut off.

Someone had to make a jumper for OKC, even if just to keep the Rockets honest and give Durant some breathing room, but it didn't come. Kevin Martin was just 3-of-11 from the field and Thabo Sefolosha was 1-of-7 as Houston packed the paint tighter and tighter.

Eventually, the Thunders' lead vanished. They found themselves behind so what else did they do but call on Durant.

After the game, Scott Brooks said of Durant, "He's an amazing scorer, but he sets up a lot of guys to get easy buckets. He's a playmaker."

That Durant was on display Saturday night. For all the scoring, and the 41 points were amazing, it was the way he commanded the game that stood out. Whether it was one of his four assists, the way he moved the ball out of double teams to get the Rockets' defense scrambling or drew three men to him on a shot that left Ibaka wide open for a layup, Durant was every bit the playmaker that Brooks admired after the game.

So when the clock was ticking down, the Thunder trailed by two and Durant's three-point attempted bounced high into the air, it was only fair that he got the lucky bounce before the ball settled through the net. The remarkable player got a remarkable roll to earn his team a win.

But it took a remarkable shot to do it. Despite being up 17 at halftime, Durant's 41 points and Houston suffering the injury of Jeremy Lin, Oklahoma City barely held on. And it was all because of Durant.

"I took Kevin out for 25 seconds," Brooks said after playing Durant 47 minutes. "And I didn't want to do that."

And therein lies the Westbrook-less Thunder's problem. They are asking for a 47-minute a night Superman and as good as Durant is, he can't do that en route to a NBA title -- nobody can.

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