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Thunder rely on Kevin Durant to carry them to Western finals

By Zach Harper | NBA writer

Durant's 39 points were just too much for the Clippers. (USATSI)
Kevin Durant's 39 points were just too much for the Clippers. (USATSI)

More postseason coverage: Playoff schedule, results | Latest news, notes

We all know about the ridiculousness of the idea that Kevin Durant wasn't reliable for the Oklahoma City Thunder. The 2013-14 NBA MVP has always been reliable for the Thunder, even when he has off nights. The attention he draws from the defense always has the potential to open things up for the rest of the team, which doesn't go away whether he's hitting his shots or not. In the Thunder's 104-98 Game 6 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers to advance to the Western Conference finals, Durant proved to be something that exists on another plane.

Durant wasn't just reliable for the Thunder; he was relentless. It's the only way to describe the way in which he fueled the offense, accounting for nearly half (50) of the Thunder's points through his scoring and passing. His final line of 39 points, 16 rebounds, and five assists wasn't an aberration. The numbers were an expectation for Durant, which is absurd to say about any player in the postseason. That's just how good he has become and how incredible the expectations are that he meets regularly.

The Thunder have been in 12 elimination games since moving to Oklahoma City, and Durant has been stellar in almost all of them. He's managed to raise his game when all of the pressure is on the line. Whether the Thunder could be closed out or they're trying to do the closing or both, they can rely on their MVP to show up in spectacular fashion. His elimination game averages are 30.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 3.6 assists. He shoots 46.1 percent from the field, 42.1 percent from the 3-point line, and 85.5 percent at the free throw line. The Thunder are 8-4 in these games.

The Clippers got out to an early lead and led by as many as 16 in the game. They dominated the first quarter, looking like a team refusing to have their season end. Durant was slow to start, scoring just three points on 1-of-7 shooting in the first quarter. The Thunder went down 30-16 after 12 minutes. But Durant got going in the second quarter, hitting three straight 3-pointers on a personal 9-0 crusade to bring OKC right back into this game. From there, it was game on.

Durant was a perfect 5-of-5 from the floor in the third quarter and had 14 points. In the fourth quarter, he was less accurate (3-of-6), but his 11 points and eight rebounds in the final period helped move the Thunder to their third Western Conference finals in the past four years. The only year in this stretch they didn't make it was last postseason when Russell Westbrook went down with his knee injury. Other than that, the Thunder keep making it to the final four teams and giving themselves a chance to compete for a championship.

The crazy thing about Durant's 39 points is almost none of it came in the restricted area. He took two shots in there, although he drew a few fouls at the basket, and the rest of his buckets came on his incredibly reliable jumper. His scoring thirst couldn't be quenched and his hunger for the win still hasn't been satiated with the ultimate goal being the Larry O'Brien trophy at the end of these playoffs.

The Thunder needed their MVP to be an MVP, and even though it took him 12 minutes to get going in Game 6, he eventually got there. You weren't going to be able to stop him from getting there either. It's an elimination game, where Kevin Durant is reliably relentless.

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