Captain Clutch almost had to turn in his cape.
Kevin Durant was having the toughest of nights at the worst of times. Missing shots. Clanging jumpers. Struggling to get to the free-throw line. Nothing seemed to be going well for the Thunder superstar in the playoff opener against the Mavericks.
But then, with his team facing the very real possibility of losing on home hardwood against the defending NBA champions, Captain Clutch soared.
He got the ball with 9.0 seconds left, drove right to the free-throw line, crossed back to his left, then pulled up and over Shawn Marion.
Thunder 99, Mavs 98.
“It was contested,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “I don't think they could've done a better job. That was a huge shot.”
“It was nice to see him make that shot.”
It was way more than nice, wasn't it, Thunder fans? It was big time. It was necessary. Lose this game, failing to close out like the Thunder has in recent games and struggling the same way it did last season in the playoffs against the Mavs, and suddenly a first-round exit seems all too possible.
The Thunder Bandwagon wasn't running off the rails, but there for a minute, it looked like it had blown a tire or two.
“I thought a lot of things did not go well for us early,” Brooks said.
At the top of that list was Durant's shooting. He missed his first four shots of the game, which wouldn't be that big of a deal had he not seemed so off. Nothing looked smooth. Nothing looked in sync.
Durant didn't score for the first nine-plus minutes of the game.
Once he hit his first shot, he got hot for a few minutes, but after finishing the first quarter with three makes, he made only six baskets over the next 35 minutes, 58.5 seconds.
Until he hit the game-winner, he'd hit just 9 of 26 shots from the floor and attempted only six free throws.
“I wasn't frustrated because ... I was getting good looks,” Durant said. “They just weren't falling for me.
“I've got to just keep going.”
That's what he did, contributing in as many ways as possible. Tops among them were his blocks. He swatted four shots, and all of them were essentially layups.
That saved eight points.
And that — in addition to Russell Westbrook's amazing play and Serge Ibaka's stellar play and Kendrick Perkins' defense on Dirk — gave Durant a chance go play hero.
When his number was called on that final play, he didn't shy from it. He took the ball, drove it and shot it.
“Durant made a great shot,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “The only other thing we could've done is double team him and get the ball out of his hands.
“We should've done that. That's on me.”
The Mavs know what he can do, after all. He beat them earlier this season with a buzzer-beater.
Captain Clutch did it again Saturday night.
“It's the playoffs, and no matter how it gets done, you've got to do it,” Durant said. “Tonight was one of those nights I had to do it.”
Keep the cape, Captain. The way this series is shaping up, the Thunder may need you to use it again.