What will Kevin Durant do?
That's the question on everyone's mind.
The curiosity comes with the arrival of what could be the first defining moment of Durant's career. The basketball world is now waiting with bated breath to see if the Oklahoma City Thunder's young star will seize the moment or shrink under the magnitude of the spotlight.
Durant is now in the ultimate pressure cooker, a Game 7 against the tough-as-nails Memphis Grizzlies to decide if his team will move on to the Western Conference Finals. This much we know. For the Thunder to advance, Durant can't possibly have another performance like he did in Game 6.
“I was just thinking too much,” said Durant of his 11-point, 3-for-14 shooting display in the 95-83 loss. “Everything was going through my head.”
Mainly the Grizzlies' tandem of Tony Allen and Shane Battier. The two became giant speed bumps for Durant, brilliantly slowing down the reigning two-time scoring champ like few others have this season. They played Durant physically. They contested Durant's shots. They took Durant completely out of the contest.
It was the kind of defensive dominance that could make a player have nightmares.
Instead, Durant's subconscious recreated those scenarios.
“I woke up (Saturday) morning still feeling like I was in the game. I was dreaming about it,” Durant said. “I made a lot of my shots, of course, in the dream. It wasn't a nightmare. I made some shots and we won the game. But that's just a dream”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks, only half-joking, said he didn't share that dream.
“But I hope to have that dream (Sunday night),” Brooks said. “I have no concern with Kevin. That guy is a winner. I believe in him. I believe in what he's about. These are the games that everybody dreams about. You don't get a lot of times you can play a Game 7.”
For Durant, it's an opportunity to write the first chapter of his legacy. Depending on how Durant bounces back, Sunday's game could further shape his status as a growing superstar or spark critics to start to lump him in with a long list of superbly talented players who just couldn't get it done on the game's biggest stage.
“I know I'm going to be aggressive,” Durant said. “I'm excited about getting another opportunity.”
Durant showed his mettle in Game 5 of the first-round series against Denver. He came alive when it was time to close out the Nuggets, scoring 16 of his game-high 41 points in the fourth quarter.
In Friday's win-and-advance game, however, Durant looked despondent as the game wore on. His challenge now is overcoming the tag team that's bottled him up throughout much of this series. A day later, Durant looked back on Game 6 and said he wasn't playing instinctively. Two early fouls took prevented him from finding his rhythm, and by the time foul trouble wasn't an issue, Durant's mental state was shot.
He began to play passively, admittedly settling for jumpers before finishing with nine 3-point attempts on his 14 shots from the field.
“That was a lesson learned for me, especially in the playoffs,” Durant said. “You just got to leave it out on the floor.”
Thunder forward Nick Collison said Durant needs assistance from his teammates.
“I think he'll bring as much energy as he can and he'll try to be aggressive,” Collison said. “We have to play better as a team. Our level of play just needs to be higher in general. It'll put Kevin in much better opportunities than we put him in (Friday) to succeed.”