Kevin Durant walked out of the Ford Center on Tuesday night, hopped into the back of a car with his father and two brothers by his side and didn’t say a word as the foursome traveled north, from downtown Oklahoma City to his Edmond home. The Thunder’s agonizing 101-98 defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers stung too much to speak, and Durant’s two airballs in the final seconds of regulation, and overtime became the inescapable conclusion to his miserable final 24 minutes.
"I just kept to myself,” Durant said. "People were text messaging me and I just left it alone and went right to sleep.”
It wasn’t until Thursday morning that Durant recuperated from the repulsive feeling of what he later realized was the toughest loss of his young career.
"I had the game in my hands twice — and I didn’t come through,” said a more talkative Durant on Thursday, after also being tightlipped to reporters following the game. "But people told me that great players have a short memory. So that’s what I have to learn how to do.”
Durant’s first opportunity to truly put Tuesday’s failures to rest comes tonight at the Toyota Center, where the Thunder will meet Houston at 7:30. Against the Rockets, Durant desperately wants to bounce back from his scoreless, 0-for-5 shooting performance in the fourth quarter and overtime. More than anything, he wants to snap the Thunder’s two-game losing streak and get back on the right side of .500.
But after Tuesday’s showing, a significant sidebar has become Durant’s ability to finish games. It’s a story line that played out throughout last season and one Durant wasn’t supposed to be addressing just four games into 2009-10. The difference, though, between then and now is Durant isn’t as caught up with simply hitting the game-winner. He’s come back determined to make the right play when the game is on the line.
"There is a big difference,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "That’s one of the things that it takes time to develop. You can’t expect a young player who is a terrific offensive player to make great plays every time down the court, because they’re going to go to their natural instincts.