Carlson: Like champions do, Kevin Durant delivered in crunchtime
Even after he had embraced everyone on the Thunder payroll, congratulated anyone in Grizzlies blue, soaked in the series-clinching celebration and conducted a postgame television interview, Kevin Durant still had one more thing to do before he left the court Sunday afternoon.
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He made a beeline to his family and friends sitting courtside at the Oklahoma City Arena and hugged each and every one of them.
This was a day to celebrate.
Thunder 105, Grizzlies 90.
On an afternoon when Oklahoma City had lots of stars as it punched its playoff ticket to the Western Conference Finals, Durant notched the best performance of his already storied career. He scored 39 points. He fueled the Thunder. What's more, he did so less than 48 hours after a clunker of a game.
“Durant ... showed the heart of a champion,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said.
This was a defining moment for Durant.
This was the kind of game that will be highlighted in the early years of his career when he's some day inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
What Durant did Sunday in a high-stakes, winner-take-all Game 7 is impressive on its own, but against the backdrop of his Game 6 no-show, it is even more remarkable. Last we saw Durant, he looked nothing like the league's two-time scoring champ, chucking up ugly shots and getting even uglier results.
“I guess I can say it now — he stunk last game,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.
Um, even if he wasn't saying that after Friday night's game, the rest of the basketball world was. Durant had as many missed shots as points scored. Eleven was the tally on both.
Worse, he hit just one basket in the final 44 minutes of the game.
“That wasn't me at all Game 6,” Durant said Sunday. “I was so upset with myself that I kind of let my guys down by not playing my game.
“I wasn't aggressive at all.”
Durant just kept firing from 3-point range. While some of them were out of necessity — the Thunder was down late and needed points — a vast majority were the result of Durant not being able to get any better looks. He wasn't catching the ball on his spot. He wasn't creating separation. He wasn't getting to the rim.
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