|Game 4 proves once and for all that it's Kevin Durant's show in Oklahoma City. (Getty Images)|
OKLAHOMA CITY -- This is what we want from our NBA superstars, and this is all we want. We want them to do what Kevin Durant did Saturday night in the fourth quarter of a huge game, when Game 4 of the Western Conference finals was there for taking -- and Durant took it.
That's what we want, and that's all we want. If that sounds unrealistic, sorry, but it's not. Kevin Durant is that good. LeBron James is also that good. So are Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki. The list of guys I'd write that about -- This is all we want, for them to dominate -- is small. In fact, that's all of them. I just named the only five guys in the league who deserve that much respect, who can bear that much burden.
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Durant is on that list, only he doesn't play like it all the time. Part of that is Durant's fault. He's just too damned nice, too deferential, too trusting of his teammates. If it's possible to trust too much, Durant does that.
But only part of this is on Durant, because he can't take over a game if he can't get the ball. That's on James Harden a little bit, Russell Westbrook a little bit more, and Scott Brooks most of all. If Harden won't give up the ball up at times, and if Westbrook won't give it up most of the time, then it's on the coach to force it to happen or put his role players -- and that's what Westbrook and Harden ought to become, role players, at crunch time -- on the bench.
So this sort of domination, it's not just a one-man show. It's a collaborative effort. Durant has to want to dominate, his teammates have to let him, and his coach has to insist.
All three happened late in Game 4, when Durant scored 18 of his 36 points -- to go with eight assists and six rebounds -- in the Thunder's 109-103 victory that evened the series at two games each.
For almost three quarters, it didn't seem like Durant's domination would be necessary. The Thunder manhandled the Spurs for most of the first three quarters, getting more out of their three bigs than they got from their Big Three. Post players Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison combined for 49 points on otherworldly shooting. They were 22 of 25 from the floor, good for 88 percent, and these weren't just dunks -- though there were a lot of dunks, three by Ibaka, who made all 11 of his shots to score 26 points. But all three big men were hitting jumpers and Perkins, bless him, even spun into the lane once for a finger-roll that was almost nifty.
With their three bigs controlling the game, the Thunder were winning 68-53 with 5:30 left in the third quarter even though their Big Three -- Durant, Westbrook and Harden -- had combined for just 21 points.
"Obviously you put most of your attention on the Big Three ... but the [Thunder's] bigs came through tonight and were outstanding," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "I didn't look at the whole deal, but I think they were 22 of 25 or some crazy thing. If you did a shooting drill with nobody guarding you, I don't think you could do that."
The Thunder's bigs did that, but with a 68-53 lead the Thunder went away from what they were doing so well to try what they normally do, and what they normally do is get one-on-one play from their Big Three. Westbrook forced a 16-footer. Durant turned it over on a mad attack. Harden had one shot blocked by DeJuan Blair, then was called for an offensive foul before Blair could block his next one. At the other end, the Spurs were getting 3-pointers from Stephen Jackson and Manu Ginobili, and the third quarter ended with the Thunder clinging to a 75-71 lead.
This game, this enormous game in the history of the Oklahoma City Thunder, suddenly was up for grabs -- and Durant grabbed it.
There were 6 ½ minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Thunder leading 86-82, when Durant hit a fadeaway from 16 feet. Then he hit another fadeaway, this one from 8 feet. The Spurs were answering at the other end, so Durant started tacking on free throws as well. He rammed into Parker before rising for a 10-footer and finishing the three-point play from the line. Next, Durant converted a lob from Harden as he was being hit by Jackson, finishing another three-point play from the line. Throw in a few more jumpers, and Durant had scored, well, how many consecutive points did he score?
"I don't know how many," Brooks said. "Seemed like 15 or 16."
The final stats show 16 consecutive points for Durant, the kind of finish that only a truly great player can muster, but only if he wants to muster it -- and if his teammates will allow it.
Check, on both points.
After initially trying to deflect the credit for his closing rush, talking about Westbrook's screens as if they were why he had scored 18 points in the final 6 ½ minutes, Durant finally admitted that, yes, he wanted to close out this game. He even admitted he'd like to be called a closer.
"Yeah," Durant said, "I would like that."
But he needs help. He needs Westbrook, primarily, to get out of the way. More than that, he needs Westbrook to do the anonymous dirty work that Westbrook did Saturday night as Brooks repeatedly called for a set that saw Ibaka and Perkins get out of the way while Durant, Harden and Westbrook went to work.
Harden initiated the action while Westbrook set a screen for Durant, who would use that to get the ball before going one-on-one with whatever poor sap was in his way. Most of the time it was Stephen Jackson, who had muscled Durant off his favorite scoring spots in Game 1, and had spent the past two games trying to frustrate the skinnier Durant by getting physical with him away from the ball. In the first quarter of Game 4, Jackson leaned so hard on Durant that the mild-mannered Durant lashed out, swatting at Jackson like a frustrated cat will swat at a meddlesome puppy.
Well into the fourth quarter, the puppy was getting the better of it. With 6 ½ minutes left, three-time NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant had scored just 18 points. But then, boom. Durant tried to take over. Westbrook let him. And just like that, it happened.
"When teams start making a run, we've got to go to our first option," Westbrook said. "And that's Kevin."
That's all we want. Is it so hard?