OKLAHOMA CITY -- Kevin Durant through three quarters of Game 1 of the NBA Finals: 6 of 10, 19 points. Kevin Durant in the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Finals: 6 of 10, 17 points.
Durant didn't exactly explode for his 36 Game 1 points. He did it methodically, slowly, silently. Which is what makes him so delightfully frustrating.
Deservedly so, media members and fans have spent a lot of the day eating up Durant's brilliant closing call in Game 1, but it's also sparked one of those conversations that tend to happen when people are looking for something to talk about on an off day -- why doesn't Durant shoot more?
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But that's the thing about Durant, and it's been this way since he started playing. He will NEVER force anything. At least not in terms of isolating and playing one-on-five. He always remains within the structure of the offense, always plays in the flow and rhythm of the game. He doesn't step outside of himself to just try and shoot. Could he maybe have scored 50 in Game 1 if he had gotten the ball more? Sure he could've. But what would've been the point considering the Thunder play just fine with him settling in and playing the way he did?
“I don't want to sound like a jerk or anything, but I really don't care what people say outside the locker room, outside of this organization (about) what I need to do or what I didn't do," Durant said Wednesday. "I really don't care. You know, I'm a guy that lets the game come to me but is also aggressive at the same time. I know when to take shots, when to make the right play. People can say this and that. I learn to just tune it out and just play my game.”
Consider this fun fact: Durant has only attempted 30 shots in a game three total times in his five-year NBA career. Three. For perspective, Kobe Bryant had four 30-shot games last December alone.
Stop real quick and think that one over. It's not a slight to Kobe but an unbelievable testament to Durant's almost impossible efficiency. In these playoffs, he's only had one game with more than 25 attempts (Game 1 against Dallas). He doesn't shoot because he has to. It's not some labor of love to get him to do it. But there's not a player in the game that can pile up 36 points quieter than Durant does.
That's maybe the most incredible and impressive thing about Durant winning three consecutive scoring titles. He doesn't score by forcing up 25 or 30 shots, getting points by sheer default of attempts. He almost scores because he can't help it. It's like if you put him on a basketball court for 40 minutes, he's going to get at least 25 points just by standing out there. He can't help it.
This postseason he seems to have found a brilliant balance between scoring and involving teammates. While it might seems like he's fading away from a game or drifting from the offense, the reality is that Durant's just picking his spots. He's not in your face with his game. He's simply quietly waiting for his chance to kill you. It's a true gift.
There have been moments he needed a little nudge, though. Game 4 against the Spurs, Durant was drifting a tad, and Thunder coach Scott Brooks noticed it. He pulled Durant over and told him point blank: We need you to shoot. Same thing happened in Game 1 on Tuesday against the Heat. Results: 16 consecutive fourth quarter points against the Spurs, 17 fourth quarter points against the Heat.
"I like guys going after it and living with the results," Brooks said. "I don't like to go into the next day (thinking), I wish I would have done this, I wish I would have done that, and for guys to think I didn't do my job. If you've got open shots, you've got to take it. If you've got a drive it, you've got to drive it. If you've got a pass it, you've got to pass it. Simple philosophy, but it's always about being aggressive and aggressive not only for yourself but for your teammates."
Says Durant: "I just know it's going to come back around."
He has a unique trust in his teammates, believing that he can stand idle and dominate a game without necessarily sticking his thumb over it. He believes in team and right basketball plays nearly to a fault, but when he needs to snap out of it, he always does.
It's easy to point a finger at Westbrook because he's the primary guy preventing Durant from firing away 30 or 35 times. But that's by design -- Durant's design. He's never had an issue with Westbrook's shot volume, instead citing the fact earlier this season that the Thunder actually have a better record in games where Westbrook shoots more. And wouldn't you know it, in Game 1, Westbrook had 24 shots to Durant's 20.
"Well, it took us some time," Durant said about finding the balance between him and Westbrook. "I think we're both willing passers, but we do know when we have to be aggressive. Russ is great at knowing when we're down, he has to be aggressive. When we're down, I have to be aggressive. But when we have a good flow in the game, that's when everybody is touching the ball, we're moving it, we're finding a good shot, finding a great shot.
"It's kind of weird, but I think it just kind of clicks for you when you know you have to shoot the ball and when you have to pass it."
It's kind of weird. Like it's just something inside of him that happens. An unexplainable phenomenon that forces him to start scoring like he's Brad Pitt at a sorority house.
And the main key: The Thunder won by 11. That's the thing: At 23 years old, Durant has stormed the playoffs, set the NBA on fire, won three scoring titles and become a cold-blooded closer. I kind of think he knows what he's doing.
Durant scores the ball effortlessly. It's like Ernie Els swinging a golf club. A Kevin Durant jumper is almost art. And the thing is, at nearly seven feet tall with a deadly handle, incredible athleticism and outstanding court awareness, Durant really could get a good shot whenever he wants it. It truly seems that if he wanted, he could score 70 points, because it just looks that easy. But that restraint is what makes him who he is. He's not a gunner. He can gun, he can cook, but his steadfast refusal to indulge us is what makes him so deliciously economical with his scoring. He's not going to force and call his own number, no matter how good an idea that may seem to be. Because he's about team, about wins and about playing his part. He scores not because he has to or wants to but because he can't help it.
Should he shoot more? Should he assert? Should he take over from tipoff? I think it's simply our own selfishness to say yes, because we all want to see that pretty KD jumper in action 20 or 25 times a game. But in his world, it's about getting the high percentage look, the smart shot. When it's time, he knows it. He knew it was time in Game 4 against the Spurs and knew it was time in Game 1 against the Heat.
And when he makes that choice to grab the game, really, what can you do with Durant? The Heat obviously have adjustments and LeBron James can certainly defend him. But as Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said earlier this season, really the best defense for Durant is to just hope he misses.