HOUSTON — Kevin Durant doesn't mind having the ball in his hands to start nearly every trip down the court.
He's not only comfortable with it. He also enjoys it.
“I think it's fun,” Durant said Sunday. “I feel like I'm playing street ball again, just having the ball in my hands all the time, handling the ball, initiating the offense.”
Good thing. Because the primary ball-handler is what Kevin Durant must now be more regularly in the wake of Russell Westbrook being lost for the remainder of the playoffs.
Durant transformed into a “point forward” in Saturday night's Game 3 win over Houston. He orchestrated the offense from the moment Westbrook's replacement, second-year point guard Reggie Jackson, picked up his second foul early in the first quarter. Durant brought the ball up the court, began running high pick-and-rolls with his big men and carved up the Houston defense, setting up teammates for scores by spraying passes all over the court in between bursts of supplying scoring himself.
It wasn't the plan going in. But like so many things Saturday night, and likely so many more instances that figure to come, it was something the Thunder had to adjust to on the fly.
“I knew I had to do a little bit more on the offensive end,” Durant said. “I had to handle the ball a little bit more and attack.”
As splendid as Durant was in expanding his game and keeping OKC afloat, noticeably absent from the Thunder's attack was the relentless pressure that only Westbrook provides. When Durant's minutes piled up and the emotionally charged Thunder ran low on energy, the offense bogged down in the second half.
A team that led by as many as 26 in the second quarter made just 12 field goals in the second half and was outscored 52-38 in the final 24 minutes.
“Anytime you lose a superstar like Russ that takes so much pressure off of the team offensively, especially with him having the ball in his hands so much,” said Kevin Martin. “You're missing that point guard that can control the game, and that's what you seen in cases last night.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks on Saturday made it a point to try to slow down the pace without Westbrook. Moving forward, that might be the only way one league's highest scoring and most efficient teams can maintain much of its high-powered attack.
Brooks, though, is cautious to not tinker too much too soon.
“We will make a few minor adjustments,” Brooks said. “We don't want to change everything and throw so many things at guys and expect them to pick things up and be comfortable with a lot of adjustments. We just want to throw a few things (at them).”