Not all series are the same.
As I was watching the San Antonio Spurs trounce the Oklahoma City Thunder 117-89 in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, I was thinking about the impact Kevin Durant was having on the game. He clearly had an impact. Even in blowout losses, the top stars in the league still force the opposing team to adjust what they're doing as they create the big margins. But as I watched the Spurs wax the floor with OKC, I started wondering what Game 6 would bring.
Would we see the Thunder keep up the trend in this series of dominating as the home team? Would the Thunder look elimination in the face once again and be able to forge ahead? Are we going to see Kevin Durant have a moment like Paul George had in Game 5 against the Miami Heat, when he scored 21 fourth-quarter points to stave off elimination?
The tricky part with that last question is that it's really hard to compare one series to the other. So often, we find ourselves comparing what one player is doing in one series to what another player is doing or has done in a completely different series and sometimes in a completely different year. It doesn't quite allow us the proper context to judge the actions and situation of the current situation for the player we're dissecting.
With George in Indianapolis in Game 5, we saw a desperation in the air as he went off to ensure his team wouldn't be starting their off-season vacations just quite yet. Teammate David West implored him to not "leave any bullets in the chamber" in that game, which was evident when he hit 8 of 10 from the field in the final quarter. It's a different set of players in a different environment with different schemes, different adjustments, and different circumstances, so it's not fair to hold Durant to the same expectations.
This isn't about Durant proving he's actually the league's most valuable player this season. He's more than proven that time and time again throughout the regular season and the playoffs. And this isn't a hot sports take in which I want Durant to prove his place in NBA history by shoving the series deficit into the faces of the Spurs in the next game and possibly a Game 7. He's facing a tough defensive team and one of the best on-ball wing defenders in the NBA in Kawhi Leonard. He has enough on his plate right now.
In the 2014 Western Conference Finals, Durant is averaging 24.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 3.4 assists while shooting 47.6 percent from the field. Those are very good numbers, especially considering the defensive coverage facing him on every possession. But there hasn't been one "Kevin Durant moment" in this series. Serge Ibaka has had his moment and Russell Westbrook certainly has put his mark on the series. Looking at Durant's five performances in this series, you feel like he's been good but you don't feel like he has had a signature moment.
With the next loss in this round sending him and his teammates to the offseason, it seems fair to wonder if Durant is going to have that explosive game we've been waiting for from him. Are we going to get the 39-point, 16-rebound, and 5-assist effort we saw from Durant to eliminate the Clippers during the second round of the playoffs? Do we get to see him go for 69 points on 41 shots over the next two games like he did when down 3-2 in the first round to the Grizzlies?
It's not that we need Durant to validate himself with the basketball world; it's that his teammates need him to be that unstoppable force to help keep their season going. Plenty more has to happen in this series for the Thunder to stay alive and then win a Game 7 on the road. Westbrook has to be great. The role players have to step up. The defense has to be tighter, more aggressive, and capable of ending possessions by grabbing rebounds or forcing turnovers.
All of that likely needs to be spearheaded by Durant turning the Spurs' defense into a training exercise in which he torches the net in the impressive manner we've marveled at all season long. It's not fair to ask him to do what George did for the Pacers because it's not the same circumstances. What he did against the Clippers and Grizzlies earlier in this postseason also aren't the same circumstances either.
Thursday night, we learned the Western finals aren't going to be like the 2012 series when the Thunder lost the first two games before running off the next four victories. The Spurs ended that possibility with an impressive showing on both ends of the floor.
Not all series are the same and this one needs Kevin Durant to make it his own.