Ultimately, Durant led the league in total minutes during the regular season, logging 3,122. He played at least forty minutes in six of the final eight regular season games, including the final three. The Thunder had chances to rest him in the final two but struggled at New Orleans, where OKC suffered an embarrassing defeat, and against Detroit in the season finale. Durant’s now averaging 47.8 minutes in this series.
It’s resulted in Durant shooting just 40 percent from the field, 28.6 percent from the 3-point line and 71.8 percent from the foul line. They’re Durant’s worst postseason shooting percentages since his playoff debut in 2010.
He’s uncharacteristically missing shots that he doesn’t just generally make but shots that he’s grown to be money on, like layups, free throws and rhythmic mid-range jumpers.
His struggles are the biggest reason why the Thunder is staring at a 3-2 series hole.
“He hasn’t made the shots that he normally makes, that he’s made for years,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “Every player will go through that during a stretch…There’s no question that he would like to make some of those shots that he has taken. But the great ones just continue to focus on the next game, and he’s a great one.”
Last year, the prevailing belief was the absence of Westbrook made it easy for Memphis to do a number on Durant in the second round. But with Westbrook on the court this time, the Grizzlies still have turned this series into a mugging of the four-time scoring champ.
He’s contending with the grit of Tony Allen, whose defense appears to be more of an insurmountable Kryptonite for Durant’s scoring powers by the day, and the length of Tayshaun Prince. Both have flummoxed the league’s most formidable scorer.
Now it seems it’s all gone to Durant’s head.
Before Game 5, Durant scribbled “It’s just BBall” on his game shoes, a message to either remind himself to stay calm in the face of rising pressure or a note to self that simply rationalizes his struggles.
“He’s one of the best players in the world, and he has to continue to step up and take those shots. And he will,” Brooks said. “I believe in him. I have the utmost respect for his game and all the work that he puts in. We’re looking forward to Thursday night’s game. It’s a great opportunity for all of us.”
An opportunity for others.
A defining moment for Durant.