BOSTON â€” The last time Kevin Durant was in Boston, the ring of the final buzzer had barely faded before someone indignantly tried to discredit how the Oklahoma City Thunder's star forward had just led his team to what, at the time, had marked his first signature victory.
That someone was Kevin Garnett, whose heat-of-the-moment reaction following the Thunder's 109-104 stunner over the Celtics on March 31 infamously lives on through half-minute Internet video clips.
â€œI thought we were playing Michael (expletive) Jordan tonight the way he was getting the whistle,â€ Garnett said as he stared down at a stat sheet while propping up his head against a clinched fist. â€œDurant damn near shot more free throws than our whole team. That's the game.â€
That night, Durant scored a game-high 37 points to go with eight rebounds, two assists and a perfect 15-for-15 streak at the foul line. The Celtics shot just 17 free throws.
â€œI was kind of shocked he said it in a press conference,â€ Durant admitted recently. â€œBut he thought that way about me. I was just happy to get that win in Boston that night. A lot of people said they gave me fouls, and that started the whole thing with Phil Jackson (questioning Durant's foul calls). But it was pretty cool to go through that.â€
What Durant experienced immediately after Garnett's brief blowup was a sudden spotlight that shined squarely on him. Prior to that point, Durant still was flying under the NBA radar. Even as he punched his first ticket to the All-Star game a month earlier, he traveled to Dallas playing second fiddle to Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki.
But Durant's play quickly became a national topic after the Celtics game, garnering airtime on all the major television sports talk shows. It forced followers of the game to ask themselves just how good Durant has quietly become.
The verdict: Garnett got exposed as the grumpy old man, while Durant got showered as the new kid on the block.
â€œKG's a top 50 greatest (player) to ever play the game,â€ Durant said. â€œFor him to say that about me is kind of flattering. I guess that's when people started to recognize a little bit. But I couldn't let that affect how I play or our team.â€
Durant leads his Thunder back into Boston tonight still shooting free throws in bunches and still working toward moving closer to Michael (expletive) Jordan.
For every stride Durant has taken in his fourth season, though, he has had a stumble. So far, his season averages of 28 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists are all lower than his production from a year ago. His 3.8 turnovers, meanwhile, are a career-high, while his 42.6 percent shooting is currently a career-low.