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Unassuming Durant assuming superstar, superhero role for OKC

by | CBSSports.com
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Kevin Durant likes to keep things simple. He has built a reputation on it. And after his Thunder took Game 1 against the Nuggets 107-103 behind a 41-point effort from him, he didn't stroll to the postgame press conference with any sort of swagger.

He walked in carrying three things: his phone, some headphones and a Bible.

Unassuming and humble have become good words to describe Durant, but his game is always anything but. Sunday was no exception.

He scored 25 of his playoff-best 41 in the second half, which included a 14-point explosion in the final five minutes of the third. Spanning the third and fourth quarters, Durant had a hand in either scoring or assisting on 22 of 25 Oklahoma City points.

He's the first to tell you he didn't play as well as he wanted last spring against the Lakers. And he has had it on his mind for a year to make amends.

"I've been preparing and putting in a lot of work," he said. "Last year in the playoffs, I didn't shoot the ball the way I wanted to. But it's a new season. My teammates always encourage me and put me in good positions to score, and tonight they did that."

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In classic Durant fashion though, he immediately followed it up by talking about getting back to work, saying, "Hopefully next game I can come out and shoot a little better."

Yeah, I mean 13 for 22 from the floor? Come on, you can do better than that.

But much like Durant in general, he'll likely be taking a back seat in most of the postgame chatter. His effort might be a bit overlooked because of a controversial play with 1:05 left in the game and the Nuggets leading by a point. Russell Westbrook missed a baseline jumper, and by all appearances, Kendrick Perkins illegally interfered with the ball when he tipped it home to put OKC up one.

"Appeared?" Nuggets coach George Karl laughed. "I just feel bad. Obviously we made the stop and very obviously it was goaltending."

It was a major swing in a game that stayed tight throughout the second half. Look at the box score. It's almost equal across the board. Both teams attempted 77 shots. Turnovers were equal. Free throws near the same. Rebounds similar. But in Denver's eyes, the Thunder got one extra basket they shouldn't have.

Karl, though, didn't dwell on it too long. He immediately shifted his focus to Durant and his partner in crime, Westbrook, who combined to score 72 of the Thunder's 107 points.

"The guys fought hard and did everything we asked them to do. We had Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook making 72 points against us. We will need to make some adjustments here."

It's quite the contrast from the team they were playing. The Nuggets, on the other hand, spread out their 103 between nine guys, five of them scoring in double-figures. The luxury the Thunder had -- to rely on Durant and Westbrook in crunch time -- was obvious. Westbrook hit a jumper with 30 seconds left to ice the game while Denver searched for an option late.

It has been the main concern for this Denver team heading into the postseason; they lack that go-to scorer. They've been better without Carmelo Anthony in a lot of ways, but this is certainly one moment the Nuggets could've used him.

One game, though, Karl said. "This game is just the beginning of a process" is how he put it. As close as the game was and with one non-call potentially swinging it, this series -- like most every other -- has the feel of going deep into April.

What will likely determine the series, though -- and the rest of the Thunder's playoff future -- is if Durant can rise to the challenge every night. He's ready for the moment. He seized it Sunday. This time around, he was ready.

Not a lot separates the Nuggets and Thunder in this series. Except for one big thing. He tries to make himself hard to notice, but in Game 1, Kevin Durant was impossible to miss.

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