The question started off simple, a softball some would say.
Nick Collison’s answer, however, was all-too revealing, one that explained a significant sore spot for the Thunder.
“I think what you can learn from their team is when it comes down to big possessions they always get a good shot,” Collison said when asked what his younger teammates can learn from San Antonio. “They know what they want to do and they do it. Sometimes with our team we’re just kind of out there and whatever happens, happens. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad.”
And sometimes it’s ugly.
It was ugly in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s 99-89 loss to the Spurs inside the Ford Center.
Ugly because the Thunder missed 14 of 20 shots in the period. Uglier because Kevin Durant attempted only two of those shots.
Durant scored a team-high 24 points with seven rebounds and six assists in 40 minutes. But as has been the case more often than not this season, he vanished in the fourth. Did so again Tuesday, scoring just two points on a pair of free throws despite playing nearly 10 minutes in the final period.
While San Antonio stubbornly ran its offense through Tim Duncan and Tony Parker — the two combining for 10 of the Spurs’ 20 shots in the decisive fourth quarter — the Thunder relied on the “whatever happens, happens” approach.
How else do you explain Oklahoma City’s best player attempting only two of the team’s 20 shots in a tightly-contested fourth quarter? Russell Westbrook had five attempts. Shaun Livingston had four. Collison, Nenad Krstic, Kyle Weaver and D.J. White each had two. With the exception of Livingston, each of them played almost half the minutes Durant did in the final period.
Things look worse when you consider the second of Durant’s shot attempts was a too-little-too-late 3-point heave with 50.9 seconds remaining and the Thunder trailing by 12.
“I just play my role,” Durant said. “I just run the plays Scotty calls. I trust him that we’re going to get a good shot every time down. We got good shots, but we just got to do a better job making them. Of course as a competitor, as a player, I want the ball in my hands. But I feel confident in my teammates that they’ll hit shots. So I’m not worried about it at all. Whenever my number’s called I’ll be ready.”
Maybe it’s time for Durant to call his own number.
Before he ever evolves into a great player, Durant must first develop a killer instinct, an attitude and swagger that displays some selfishness when the game is on the line.
Brooks insisted he was fine with Durant’s 0-for-2 fourth quarter performance.
“The thing I liked about Kevin’s game tonight is he competed,” Brooks said. He challenged himself defensively to get rebounds and he did that. He challenged himself to contest shots and he did that. Good teams that are strong defensive teams, they’re going to make your best player make plays and Kevin passed the ball well tonight. He had six assists and probably could have had a couple more…I don’t mind him not taking shots. I like KD and all of our players to make the right play. Is he getting the ball? Is he making the right play? That’s what I look at. I thought he did that tonight.”
Durant recorded just one rebound, zero assists, zero steals and zero blocked shots in the fourth quarter. While his Thunder teammates did indeed miss shots, the ball rarely ran through Durant on most possessions in the fourth. That’s seemingly a bigger problem than the minimal shot attempts.
At some point someone, whether it’s Brooks, Westbrook or Durant himself, has to realize Durant can be a game-changer. But as we’ve seen so many times this season in the fourth quarter, it’s often whatever happens, happens while Durant is standing around the perimeter placing too much faith in his coaches and teammates.