SAN ANTONIO — Sometimes you wonder if Kevin Durant doesn't take this believing in his teammates thing a little too far.
Like Monday night, when the player Spurs coach Gregg Popovich calls “arguably the best player on the planet” did not attempt a shot in the second quarter. Not one.
Not with control of the Western Conference Finals at stake. Not with the Spurs scoring on seven straight possessions and looking like they were going to turn Game 5 into a best-of their Games 1-2 offensive tutorial.
About all that kept them from doing it was Daequan Cook (remember him?).
And about the time everyone in Oklahoma felt like channeling Catherine O'Hara in “Home Alone” by screaming “KEVIN???????” at their television set, the NBA's three-time leading scorer swooped in to do what Scott Brooks, Manu Ginobili and everyone else who has really been paying attention knew he he'd do.
He saved the Thunder.
Sure James Harden deserves top billing for hitting the biggest shot of this series, and his life. And the Thunder would not have been going home one win away from the NBA Finals without all eight of those points Cook scored in a four-minute stretch of the fourth quarter. But it was all that other stuff, and those 27 points, that Durant crammed into three quarters that steadied and carried the Thunder to victory.
Durant's Game 5 performance was no where near as dramatic or commanding as his fourth-quarter takeover in Game 4, when he scored 18 of his 36 points in a seven-minute stretch to help the Thunder even the series 2-2.
But no one, especially San Antonio, sloughed it off.
“He's always a factor,” Ginobili said. “Sometimes he can step aside for a little bit and give room to Harden or Westbrook, but he's always a threat. So easy for him to score that whenever you blink, he can get going and get seven, nine points in a minute.”
Manu called Durant “either the best player in the world or one of the top three or five.” His coach topped Ginobili in the pregame, going all planetary, though leaving the door open for argument. Afterward, however, Popovich was in no mood to argue about Durant's place among the game's stars.
Word of the Spurs coach's praise, however, did get back to Durant.
“Well, I appreciate that, I guess,” Durant said. “He's trying to fire up his team a little bit, as well, to get underneath me tonight. They did a great job of pushing me off and fighting me and making it tough for me. But Popovich has been around for a long time, and I really appreciate that.”
He really didn't look the part through the first half, shooting 1 of 6 and scoring five points. Somehow, the Thunder still manage to lead 52-44 at half.
And then came his 13-point third quarter, started by a jumper at the 9:38 mark that gave the Thunder a 54-52 lead and capped by a period-ending jumper. Things got wild in the fourth quarter, and Durant's defense was vital on the last possession as he forced Ginobili into a tough, tough shot.
For all the meaning injected into this triumph, Durant admitted afterward he had a little extra motivation. When a reporter asked what it all meant to him, Durant mentioned his uncle Tyrone, who watched from a hospital room. Only after some prodding did he elaborate on why this game means even more to him.
“All I can say is I just wanted to win for him tonight,” Durant said. “He's watching. He's been watching me ever since I was a kid. It was weighing heavy on me.”