MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A year ago, Kevin Durant could barely contain his emotions.
The frustration of a grueling six-game fight with Ron Artest and the Los Angeles Lakers took a toll on the Oklahoma City Thunder star. And because of his struggles in that 2010 playoffs series, Durant, at times, grew downright grumpy.
Before one game inside Staples Center, Durant lashed out at one reporter who just happened to be the latest in a long line of journalists digging too deep into back and forth between Durant and Lakers coach Phil Jackson. After a loss in L.A., Durant ripped into another reporter like never before for picking apart his subpar play.
Without it all, though, we wouldn't be where we are today.
Each of those interrogating questions and, more importantly, each of those lopsided fights, paved the way for the production Durant is now supplying. While much of the basketball world is busy being wrapped up in overanalyzing Russell Westbrook whenever it decides to shift the spotlight to Oklahoma City, the bigger story lurking in the shadows is how Durant is developing into an unstoppable force.
In only his second postseason, Durant has made every necessary adjustment to make sure this time he maintains his scoring prowess from the regular season. His efforts have led the Thunder into the second round for the first time and, with Game 3 between the Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies set for Saturday, just three wins shy of the Western Conference Finals.
“I'm just working harder, trying to push myself,” Durant said. “Last year, I was disappointed in how I played and how I didn't help my team as much as I wanted to. I just want to leave all the chips on the table and just go out there and play.”
After a six-game playoff baptism, Durant has increased his points, field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage, assists and steals through seven games this postseason. He's also slashed his turnover average from last year's postseason in half.
Durant's skills as a leader and as a clutch performer have skyrocketed, as evidenced by his Game 5 performance against Denver, when he scored 14 of his 41 points in the final 3 1/2 minutes to finish off the Nuggets.
“His experience going through it last year helped,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks confirmed. “His experience playing with Team USA has helped. And the work that he puts in is the No. 1 factor. Kevin works every day as if he's the 12th man on the team just trying to make the team. With that effort, you'll see improvement, and we're all seeing it.”
In a way, the early success Durant has had in this current semifinal against the Grizzlies is more impressive than what he did to send Denver home. Durant might not have been fearful going into the Nuggets series. But he's undoubtedly playing fearless now.
The Nuggets didn't have a single defender who stood a chance at guarding Durant. Coming into this series, the big concern was how the Grizzlies had two of the best at dealing with Durant in Tony Allen and Shane Battier. So far, Durant has made them, and the underrated Sam Young, look ordinary.