Kevin Durant caught an entry pass on the left side against Shane Battier.
He turned and faced, squaring himself with the goal before going into his move, a one-dibble pull-up try from the left baseline.
But Durant lost the handle on the way up and watched the loose ball land in the hands of Dwyane Wade. As Wade scooted the other way, Durant lingered, trailing the play as he complained to referee David Jones.
It resulted in a favorable five-on-four for the Miami Heat and left Serge Ibaka to close out Durant’s man, LeBron James, at the 3-point line. A basic pump fake allowed James to blow by Ibaka before using two forceful dribbles to get from the arc to the basket, where he threw down a powerful one-handed dunk.
Durant’s toes had barely crossed the 3-point line as James put the finishing touch on his highlight.
It took less than two minutes in the Thunder’s first game out of the All-Star break for a troubling trend to rear its ugly head.
Compulsive complaining had struck once again.
If there is one character flaw in Oklahoma City’s roster, it’s the team’s growing habit for griping to officials. It’s a trait that belies a blue-collar organization that prides itself on bringing in players who keep their heads down and focus solely on doing their jobs.
Quite frankly, the Thunder is failing in the art of complaining.
Not only has the incessant whining threated to tarnish the Thunder’s reputation, but it’s also become an increasingly costly distraction that has dragged down the team’s defense.
Players failing to get back in transition, as Durant did against the Heat on Feb. 20, have put additional pressure on a Thunder defense that has proven to have plenty of post-All-Star problems.
Prior to Saturday’s games, the Thunder ranked fourth-to-last in opponent points off turnovers at 18.1 per game. OKC was tied for 17th in opponent fast-break points, yielding 13.3 per game. Yet OKC ranked fourth in opponent fast-break efficiency, allowing just 1.5 points per fast break, which suggests when the Thunder does get back it does a great job of setting up its defense and stopping opponents from scoring.
The key phrase is, of course, when the Thunder does get back.
“We talk about that,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “You can’t complain about a call. You’ve got to get back and defend. Does it ever happen? Absolutely. It happens all the time. You can’t change the call. You have to get back and commit to the next play. We talk about playing forward. That’s the same thing, play forward to the next play.”
There was a time when the Thunder seemed to field a team of boy scouts and choir boys. Rarely did a player wearing Oklahoma City across his chest get called for a technical foul.
The Thunder is second behind Sacramento (40) in technical fouls at 39. Eight Thunder players have been whistled for at least one technical foul this season. Durant currently has a career-high 13, putting him three shy of an automatic one-game suspension.
“The game is hard enough,” said Nick Collison. “A big, huge part of the best, most-mature teams, the winning teams, are the ones who are not able to get distracted by, it could be a number of different things but officials is one of them. It’s very important because the game is tough enough. And then when you get into the playoffs, each possession is so important, and if you’re distracted you’re not going to play as well. So avoiding distractions in general, that’s a big one in-game.”
Brooks said he handles the issue behind closed doors.
“That’s definitely my job to monitor that and see that,” he said. “A lot of times, I’m looking at the ball going to the other end and I don’t see what’s going on. The next day, we’ve got plenty of time to watch film and show our players.”
Managing emotions in the heat of the moment, many players said, is difficult. But recently acquired forward Caron Butler has a bit of advice that might be helpful for his teammates to remember.
“Something I learned early on is this league is I’ve never seen an official reverse a call,” Butler said. “Once it’s called, it’s called. So you can’t change their opinion.”