When the Thunder has needed him most, he’s been there.
When his team has been down, he’s made sure it didn’t go out.
When his teammates, coaches and adoring fans have all looked to him to put the franchise on his back and come up big, Kevin Durant has delivered.
Time and time again.
Does the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player have one more herculean performance to offer?
With the Thunder now two losses away from summer vacation, Oklahoma City now needs the very best from Durant to climb out of a 2-0 series hole as the Western Conference Finals shifts to Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday. Durant isn’t the only Thunder player who needs to step up for OKC to stave off elimination. But he’s the best player in this series, and the time has come for him to play like it.
And he knows it.
“I have another level I have to go to in order for us to get this thing done,” Durant said.
By the time the ball is thrown up Sunday night, the Thunder will have had three days to figure out how to get Durant there. To this point, these Spurs have stumped Durant and shut down the Thunder’s typically potent offense.
In the plus-minus category, Durant owns a minus-43, meaning the Spurs have outscored the Thunder by 43 points when Durant has been on the floor. Only Russell Westbrook, who is a minus-47, has a worse plus-minus.
Durant was decent in Game 1, scoring 28 points on 10-for-19 shooting. He added nine rebounds and five assists in 41 minutes. But in the fourth quarter, a period the Thunder entered trailing by only nine points, Durant scored just three points on 1-for-4 shooting and committed two of his game-high six-turnovers. A seven-point deficit swelled to 23 before the Thunder fell by 17.
In Game 2, Durant scored 15 points on 6-for-16 shooting. He had just three rebounds and two assists. The Thunder lost by 35 points.
In both games, Durant’s defense left more to be desired, as did everyone else’s on the Thunder’s roster. Oklahoma City yielded 120 points in the paint in the first two games while watching the Spurs shoot 53.8 percent.
It was a startling development for a team that talks about taking pride on defense.
“We have to be perfect as far as our energy, and our effort has to be there every play,” Durant said. “Schemes sometimes won’t work. Our pick-and-roll coverage won’t work sometime. But our effort has to be there. Against this team, you can’t take plays off. We realize that.”
One area in which Durant has really had a tough time is getting to high-percentage spots on the floor. He’s taken just two shots at the rim in this series, according to nba.com/stats. That’s down from seven attempts per game from that location in the regular season and 6.4 through the first two rounds of this postseason.
It’s diminished his efficiency and effectiveness as a scorer. He’s taken just nine free throws in the two games. He averaged 9.9 attempts in the regular season and 9.7 through the first two rounds of this postseason.
Wednesday night, Durant looked worn down. And there’s a chance he’s just that, mentally and physically fatigued. Remember, he lead the league in total minutes played at 3,122 in the regular season.
In these playoffs, the Thunder has ridden Durant for 43.3 minutes a night. His 649 total minutes this postseason are 70 more than Russell Westbrook, who totaled only 1,412 regular season minutes after missing 36 games. The closest Spur to Durant is Tim Duncan at 464 minutes, a 33.1 average.
So if Durant has any more dominant performances left in him, he’ll need to dig deep to pull it on display Sunday.
Otherwise, the Thunder’s season will be all but over.