Clutch is a many splendored thing.
Last-second shots are the garden variety that make their way to SportsCenter. Then there is the deeper forms of clutch, which make their way to legend.
Kevin Durant's legend grew Wednesday night. Grew like a beanstalk. Grew like he must have grown as a kid back in suburban D.C. Grew like the Thunder's confidence every time one of his Kevinly shots found the net in crunchtime.
Durant scored 14 points in the final 31/2 minutes to rescue the Thunder from uh-oh land. The Thunder beat Denver 100-97 to secure Oklahoma City's first playoff advancement. The Thunder moves on up to the Western Conference semifinals, and Durant moves on up the ladder of NBA superstars with his 41-point game.
“First time in the playoffs I felt this confidence,” said Durant, even though he opened this series with a 41-point game.
Durant soared on this national stage. Sometimes with one hand (twice nestling those squeezably soft one-handers into the basket when the Thunder just had to have a basket, again with just nine seconds left to block J.R. Smith's 3-point prayer) and sometimes with two (for his Rifleman-quick release of a shot).
Durant put his team on his back and this city into exhilaration. A playoff series won. The Western semifinals against San Antonio or Memphis awaits.
“Our crowd really won the game for us,” Durant said. “They really pulled us through when we were down. Shows how much we are blessed to be a part of this great city.”
Durant blessed to have OKC? How about OKC blessed to have Durant?
But while Oklahoma City will remember this night for the streamers flowing and the celebration on the court and for this maiden feeling of playoff success, NBA Nation will remember this night for Durant's singleness of purpose. On a night when his team couldn't shoot straight, Durant refused to let his team lose.
I hate statements like that. I never make them. But what else is there to say, what else is there to believe, after watching this?
Clutch? Clutch is saving a team that's about to lose at home, forcing a quick flight to Denver, where a bunch of mean people like Nene' and Kenyon Martin and that goofball Sonicgate guy await. Clutch is saving a team from getting halfway to dubious NBA history. No team ever has won a series after going down three games to none, but give Denver this win, and who believes the Nuggets wouldn't be back Sunday, tied 3-3?
Clutch is making the last 10 seconds relevant in the first place. In those final 31/2 minutes, which began with Denver leading 91-82, Durant made five of six shots and all three of his foul shots.
So much for George Karl's quest to prove that go-to guys aren't needed. The Denver coach put up a good fight, getting the Nuggets this far after superstar Carmelo Anthony forced a trade to the Knickerbockers, and who knows, maybe some day Karl will be proven right.
But not this day. Not when Durant almost by himself beat a well-rounded Nugget team that had five double-digit scorers ranging from 11 to 15 points but scored only one basket in the final 41/2 minutes, that on a tip-in, as the pressure mounted and the Thunder defense grew fangs.
“A great player got hot,” Karl said. “It's always tough to close it out in a tough building with a player playing as well as Durant was playing.”
Tough to beat a team that has a superstar who most definitely is Mister Clutch.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.