MIAMI — Kevin Durant has played 124 minutes in the NBA Finals. LeBron James has played 132 minutes.
Doesn't seem like much difference. Two minutes 40 seconds a game.
But in this razor-thin series, with the Thunder having lost two games in which it had shots to tie in the final 30 seconds, 2:40 of Durant sitting and LeBron playing is the difference in the pole position for the O'Brien Trophy.
Durant's foul trouble has staggered the Thunder, particularly in Game 3 Sunday night, when Durant missed the final 5:41 of the third quarter, a span in which the Heat took control.
Durant also sat out a chunk of Game 2's third quarter, with four fouls. That can't continue if the Thunder is to get this series back to Oklahoma City.
“Kevin is an aggressive player,” said Scotty Brooks. “He plays aggressive basketball. We might have to change a few things up, but he's an aggressive player both ends of the floor.”
Do the changes mean Durant won't be asked to guard LeBron, who has drawn six of the 12 fouls called on Durant in the series? Do the changes mean Durant has to lay off Miami fastbreaks, considering two of his Game 3 fouls came in transition?
Brooks won't say, of course, but this much is true. Durant has to be more careful.
I know this series has become part Macho Man, Durant vs. LeBron for the crown of pro basketball. But Durant can't fall victim to such a siren song. He's got to play smart. Got to remember that discretion goes with valor. Got to remember the feeling of sitting the bench those 51/2 minutes, watching the Heat grab the series reins.
“I didn't want to come out of the game, but I knew that it was going to be tough for Coach to play me with four fouls,” Durant said.
I suppose. Most every NBA coach would sit their superstar at that point in the game. But espn.com analyst Kevin Arnovitz pointed out the circular argument: “Presumably, the decision to sit Durant for nearly six minutes is to ensure that he doesn't pick up his fifth foul, in which case he'd have ... to sit.”
Better for Durant not to force Brooks to make such a decision. Better for Durant to play all 48 minutes, like he did against the Spurs in Game 6. Better for Durant to play more minutes than LeBron plays, which has yet to happen in this series.
Heck, Durant has played three less minutes than Miami's Dwyane Wade and only five more minutes than the Heat's ancient Shane Battier.
LeBron says he's not going at Durant in particular, but Durant found foul trouble only twice all season before the Finals and now has found it two straight games.
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra calls that a “residual benefit” of the way the Heat, in particular LeBron, plays. Sometimes, LeBron just puts his head down and goes.
“When he attacks, he has the ability to draw sometimes upwards of double-digit fouls on the opponent,” Spoelstra said.
Does that mean the Thunder could switch assignments? Move Thabo Sefolosha over to guard LeBron, with Russell Westbrook taking Wade and Durant settling for Mario Chalmers? Seems like that could shift the foul-trouble risk to Westbrook, but it's not like Durant has been clamping down on LeBron, who is averaging 30.3 points a game in the series.
“LeBron is a tough guy to guard,” Durant said. “Everybody knows it. But I'm going to play my hardest and try and play smarter. A few of them, I didn't think were fouls. But that's how the cards are dealt. I've just got to deal with it.
“I've never been a guy that complains about it or gets mad at a ref for making a call, so I've just got to play through it and be myself, and whatever happens happens.”
If foul trouble keeps happening, the Thunder will go under.
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 FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.