Kevin Durant got the ball in scoring position, with the game in the balance, and suddenly all was right in Thunderworld.
The Thunder had played cruddy for 3 1/2 quarters Thursday night, only to come alive down the stretch and somehow crawl its way back into Game 2 of the NBA Finals.
Down two, 12 seconds left, the ball in Durant's hands on the baseline. Nobody north of Palm Beach thought Durant would miss. In these NBA playoffs, he had conditioned us to believe he was the last man in America who could miss a clutch shot.
But this time, LeBron James, the biggest, baddest baller on the planet, guarded Durant. Shawn Marion and Metta World Chaos are primo defenders, and Durant had slain them with game-winners, but neither of those ruffians is LeBrawn.
Durant got a step on LeBron, pulled it up six feet from the basket and tossed a floater at the basket as a forearm directed him sideways. The ball bounced off, and soon enough the NBA Finals were tied.
The Heat beat the Thunder 100-96, and now the series moves to Miami with Durant having been proven human and LeBron reminding us to go slow on that passing-the-mantle of the world's-best-player crown.
LeBron guarded Durant from the get-go in Game 2 — wise move, Erik Spoelstra — and helped shut down the Thunder offense. OKC was in an 18-2 hole, and this game looked over.
But we know two things about the Durantulas. They always come back, and Durant knows how to deliver if they get close.
So back came the Thunder, including 16 fourth-quarter points from Durant, giving him 33 in the Finals' two fourth quarters. Durant's 5-point flurry — a driving dunk, followed by a rainbow 3-pointer — in a span of 13 seconds brought the Thunder within 98-96, and when LeBron settled for a deep 3-pointer that bounced off, the stage was set.
Durant ready to steal the stage.
And Derek Fisher's inbounds at midcourt with 12 seconds left put Durant in great shape. Durant might have made a mistake by not driving all the way to the basket. He's quite the finisher. But the Heat defense was closing fast from all corners, and Durant has a feel for this game, in case you haven't noticed.
So Durant pulled up, LeBron popped him with contact that was incidental if you fly Heat colors and was assault if you fly Thunder blue, and Durant's shooting percentage in the final 24 seconds of playoff games on shots that can tie or go ahead fell to 3-of-5.
The rest of the league is 1-for-30, if you're counting at home.
Was Durant fouled? The Thunder pleaded the Fifth.
“That's one play,” said Scotty Brooks. “We have so many other plays that we could have done better to put us in position to stay closer in the game. I'm not going to get into that (officiating). I haven't in the past, I'm not going to start doing it now.
“The last minute, I won't even look at that. I'm going to focus on the first six to eight minutes of the game.”
That was a tirade compared with Durant.
“We were supposed to run a little pindown play, but Fish made a great pass,” Durant said. “I was open, and I missed the shot.”
Was there contact? Do you wished you had done something else?
“You know, I think I shot a good shot,” Durant said. “That's a shot I shoot all the time. I just missed.”
Was there contact?
“I was just worrying about the shot. I really couldn't tell you. I've got to watch the film, I guess.”
Are you saying you didn't get mugged?
“I missed the shot, man.”
Either way, Durant had help from LeBron. Durant had somehow willed his way to 32 points on 12-of-21 shooting, despite having just two points in the game's first 18 minutes.
“On the last play, I figured they were going to go to him,” LeBron said. “He got a small step on me. I just wanted to try to keep a body on him, make him take a tough shot, and he's made tough shots all year, all series, and just that one he missed.
“KD is an unbelievable talent. I think we all know that. We all see that. He can make every shot on the floor. Just try to keep a body on him, take contested shots. He got away from me a couple times, got a couple of 3s that I am not too happy about.”
But Durant didn't get away from LeBron when the Thunder needed it most. Durant had launched a game-winner against Dallas and two against the Lakers and had become the NBA's Mister Clutch. But King James trumped King Closer, and now we've got a series on our hands.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. 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.