HOUSTON -- Kevin Durant sat on a stool in the visiting locker room Monday night, water pouring from his head. He was dripping or he was sweating -- he had just come out of the shower; he was probably doing both -- and in his hands was the stat sheet from Game 4. Durant was hunched over the piece of paper, dripping water onto it, looking for an answer to the question that wasn't a question at all, but a statement of fact:
Rockets 105, Thunder 103.
What happened? What went wrong? Durant studied that sheet of paper until it was a soggy mess. He put it down, which was assistant coach Brian Keefe's cue to come over for a chat. Durant saw him coming and put up a fist. Keefe offered a fist of his own, rapped Durant's knuckles, and took a seat.
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With media gathering in the distance, Keefe and Durant talked in low tones. I heard just one word, a word spoken by Keefe. After Keefe said it, Durant smiled.
The word was "Serge."
As in, Serge Ibaka. As in, the Thunder player who missed a 1-footer at the buzzer that would have forced overtime. The final sequence was a complete mess, partially blown up by the dogged defense of Rockets forward Francisco Garcia and then blown up the rest of the way by emergency point guard Reggie Jackson, playing in the final seconds of a playoff game because Russell Westbrook is out with a knee injury.
With 12 seconds left in a game they trailed by two points, the Thunder got the inbounds pass to Durant. Garcia was on him, close to him, "into him," as they say in basketball-speak. Garcia had been into Durant all game, which is why Durant's scoring tally -- 38 points -- was so remarkable. Garcia was physical and relentless, and Durant managed just 16 shots from the field. But Durant hit 12 of them, and he hit 13 of 15 free throws, and so he scored 38 points on a day Francisco Garcia couldn't have defended him any better.
Durant's that good, but in the final seconds Garcia was better. He forced the ball out of Durant's hands, into the hands of Jackson, and Durant didn't get the ball again. Jackson had time to get the ball back to Durant but he panicked and attacked the rim, colliding with the elevated Omer Asik in the lane, missing a short jumper.
Under the basket Ibaka grabbed the rebound. He was alone. He was a foot away. He missed.
It was a rough game for Ibaka -- eight points, five rebounds -- but I'm done writing about him. This loss wasn't his fault, though he personifies what happened in this game, and what will happen again and again as these playoffs roll on until the Thunder, ultimately, are eliminated.
Durant doesn't have any help. Not enough, anyway. Not without Russell Westbrook -- a shoot-first point guard who may not be the best possible sidekick on a team with a scorer like Kevin Durant, but who damn sure makes the Thunder better than they've been in two games in Houston. The Thunder won Game 3, but only after blowing a 26-point lead and only because Durant had 41 points and 14 rebounds. The Thunder were just like Durant's college team at Texas, a one-man show, in Game 3. And they were the same thing in Game 4.
If Durant had any help at all -- any quality help, I mean -- this series would be over.
"Nobody wants to go home [for Game 5]," Brooks said. "We wanted to win, move onto the next series."
And they would have, if Durant had quality help. But without Westbrook he didn't. And he doesn't. Durant was 12 of 16 from the floor (75 percent). His teammates were 23 of 56 (41.1 percent). Durant led the team in scoring, rebounding (eight), assists (six).
Jackson had 18 points but took 18 shots and handed out just three assists, a paltry number for a point guard playing alongside Kevin Durant on a day Durant is shooting 12 of 16 from the floor. Kevin Martin and Derek Fisher scored 16 and 12 points because somebody had to. The other five players who saw action for the Thunder -- Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha, DeAndre Liggins and Nick Collison -- combined for 19 points in 100 minutes.
Durant had no help, nothing of quality, and it's not like he needed much. Not on a day when Rockets star James Harden was awful. Harden had a double-double, but not the good kind. He had 15 points and a franchise playoff-record 10 turnovers, and after making lousy decisions for 46 1/2 minutes he made three more in the final 90 seconds. Three times Harden went one-on-one to close out the game, and three times he missed shots. One was an air ball. He was lousy.
And still the Rockets won, because Chandler Parsons was terrific (27 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists) and because Omer Asik was very good (17 points, 14 rebounds) and because Kevin Durant had no help.
This is how it will be for Durant for the rest of the postseason, however long it lasts. That's what I wanted to tell him as he sat at his locker, Keefe gone, the stat sheet a mushy mess. Durant was looking at his iPhone now, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. Who knows what he was looking for there. More answers? Maybe some tweets to take his mind off what just happened? A consolation text message from Westbrook?
Don't know. Durant wasn't talking to anyone, because he was alone. His teammates were mostly dressed and picking through the postgame spread of chicken. Five chairs away sat DeAndre Liggins. Otherwise, Kevin Durant was alone.
Which is more than the way this story ends. It's the way this story starts, too. Because that's the answer Kevin Durant was looking for as he studied the stat sheet, hunched over, dripping water.
What happened? What went wrong?
Kevin Durant was alone.