DALLAS — Very rarely will a 40-point explosion in a conference final be made a footnote.
But thanks to Dirk Nowitzki's historic performance in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, that's exactly what became of the scoring outburst by Kevin Durant.
It was an afterthought.
“That's hard to do,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
Durant, of course, doesn't mind. For the Oklahoma City Thunder's star forward, it's never about his scoring output. It's always about the outcome. And the Thunder's 121-112 loss to Dallas didn't sit well with Durant.
“I didn't play well because we lost,” Durant said Wednesday. “That's how I feel. I missed a lot of shots that I thought I should have made. I missed a free throw. I had a few turnovers. So I didn't play the game I wanted to play. But it's always next game.”
Listen to Durant downgrade his dominance and you can't help but roll your eyes.
In the biggest game of his NBA career, Durant went on the road and torched the Mavs with an array of jumpers, drives and floaters. He made 10-of-18 shots, buried 18 of 19 free throws and had eight rebounds, five assists and two blocks, all team-highs.
It was the type of game that gave us the latest shred of evidence that Durant is evolving into one of the game's most unstoppable forces right before our eyes. Thus far, Durant has turned these playoffs into his personal playground.
In 13 games this postseason, Durant has scored at least 35 points five times. Tuesday's scoring tally was his third 40-point game. And when the pressure was thickest, Durant found ways to deliver for his team like a true superstar. In the closeout Game 5 against Denver, Durant scored 41 points in 42 minutes. In Game 7 against Memphis, Durant poured in 39 points in 39 minutes. Had he gotten any of his customary help from his teammates against the Mavs on Tuesday, the basketball world would have been talking about Durant rather than Nowitzki's 48-point effort and 24-of-24 marksmanship from the foul line.
“Durant's still very young in his career. But what he's done in this four-year period of time and internationally and everything else, he's one of the best scorers that anybody's ever seen,” said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle.
Durant leads all scorers in the 2011 playoffs with a 29.8-point average. He's shooting 46.5 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from the 3-point line while averaging 41.6 minutes.
Despite sitting four wins shy of his first trip to the NBA Finals, he's remained as humbled as ever.
“I don't think I'm in a zone,” Durant said. “I wish I was.”
His teammates disagree.
“He's real focused, and this is the time of the year where we need a leader like that offensively to carry us all. And he did that,” said guard Thabo Sefolosha. “It's impressive the way he's playing and leading this team. It's great, especially at such a young age.”
Durant had a disappointing experience in his first taste of playoff basketball. In the six-game series against the Los Angeles Lakers last season, Durant averaged 25 points on 35 percent shooting. He converted just 28.6 percent from 3-point range and averaged 3.6 turnovers. But he's showing how quickly he learns. And even though the Grizzlies, with pit-bull defenders Tony Allen and Shane Battier, laid a few speed traps, Durant ultimately hurdled them.
It was that Game 7 that turned the tide and shaped the makings of a monster.
“I saw him a lot more aggressive and not being afraid to go to the basket and be physical against those guys,” Sefolosha said. “I think (the) last game against Memphis was like a spark for him doing that. Just playing physical went his way so I think he keeps doing that.”
If Durant sustains his sizzling scoring streak, the Thunder will be hard to beat. But Oklahoma City will undoubtedly need some of its role players to provide some assistance. Russell Westbrook struggled with his shot in Game 1, and Serge Ibaka and James Harden were the only other players who mustered anything offensively.
Which makes what Durant did even more impressive. Even on an off night, the Thunder hung tight with the Mavs. Much of that was due to Durant.
“I'm probably his biggest fan, just because he's a quiet guy,” said Nowitzki. “He's fun to watch. He can get his shot off at any time. He's athletic. He can get to his spots whenever he wants. He's probably one of the toughest covers in this league. You're not going to stop him with one guy. You got to rotate guys on him. You got to help with five guys.
“We actually thought we did that and he still got 40. That's how amazing of a talent he is. The future of this league is in his hands.”