If the playoffs are indeed where stars are born and legends are made, we just witnessed Kevin Durant take his first step toward forcing his way into an elite fraternity.
In what he deemed a must-win game, Durant dominated the Los Angeles Lakers in the fourth quarter to lead his Oklahoma City Thunder to a 101-96 win on Thursday night.
Durant scored 12 of his game-high 29 points in the final frame, climbing out of another cold shooting night at just the right moment to pull the Thunder within 2-1 in the best-of-7 series.
Durant made just eight of 24 shots but finished with 19 rebounds, four assists and one huge blocked shot on Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, preserving a four-point lead before extending it to six with 5:12 left to play.
"He had an impressive game,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "When you don’t have a good shooting night going — and he’s the league’s leading scorer — he took it upon himself to make plays for his team.”
It was Durant’s defense that will be remembered, which, ironically enough, is the same supposed weakness the third-year player has long been criticized for.
Durant defended Bryant, who is considered the ultimate closer, in the fourth period and used his length to throw off the Laker star’s rhythm.
Bryant walked off the Ford Center court after going 2-for-10 in the fourth quarter and missing all three of his 3-point attempts. He had just four points in 12 minutes in the decisive fourth period.
"I thought his defense was kind of the inspirational part,” said Lakers coach Phil Jackson.