Kevin Durant is ready for round two.
It took the Oklahoma City Thunder star two years, but with his classic self-effacing confidence he says he's now better prepared for playoff battle with the Los Angeles Lakers.
His foray into postseason ball, remember, was forgettable.
Back in 2010, the champs worked over Durant so good he didn't know what hit him.
The answer, of course, was Ron Artest.
The player now known as Metta World Peace did a number on Durant, introducing the budding star to playoff basketball with his patented brand of physicality that left Durant and the Thunder on the wrong end of a six-game series.
Looking back, that encounter was just what Durant needed. It helped Durant, taught him. It showed Durant, for the first time, what words like tough, discouraging and frustrating really meant on a basketball court.
“The playoffs are another level as far as physicality is concerned,” Durant said when asked what his head-to-head battle with Artest taught him. “Just play through it. He's a tough defender. But that was a learning process, and ever since then I've grown as a player.”
Durant averaged 25 points in those six games. That average still stands as his lowest in any of his first five playoff rounds. With Artest smothering him, Durant shot just 35 percent, also a playoff low for any round.
For the first time, media members covering that series saw Durant lose his cool — first on the court, and then in front of the cameras. Durant became irritable, a walking time bomb.
The series was a nightmare.
Had it not been for that series, however, Durant might not be the player and playoff performer he has evolved into today.
“He's come a long way,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “Metta did a great job on Kevin in that first playoff series. But I think it also helped Kevin. He understood after that series that playoff basketball is very physical. It's very intense and it's very demanding on your body and your mind. And having Metta guard him so well, it forced him to really lock in in the summer training.”
Durant came back determined.
When a slew of the league's stoutest defenders followed in subsequent playoff series, Durant was ready. He began to understand how to play against physicality and entered each series more prepared for it.
Since Artest in 2010, Durant has battled a who's who list of the league's best defenders: Wilson Chandler, Arron Afflalo, Tony Allen, Shane Battier, Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd.
“It's been guys that were smaller than me, that were taller, that were more athletic, and stronger,” Durant said. “But it's just a matter of how I approach it and how I come in here and work and in the games how I pick and choose my spots. Sometimes it really doesn't matter who defends you. Of course those are great defenders. But I always got to be locked in on what I got to do to score and make the right play instead of who's guarding me.”
Rarely has a 23-year-old player faced so many formidable playoff foes. The experience has sped Durant's learning curve and, perhaps, put the Thunder on the fast track to a title.
No longer is Durant walking into unfamiliar territory. And for Durant, knowledge on the basketball court has boosted his powers. He's more in tune to the finer things like setting up his man more precisely, curling off screens harder and holding his position longer.
“He has a better understanding of how important where he catches it is as opposed to just concentrating on whether he makes the shot or not,” said Nick Collison. “There's so many things that go into a play before he can make a shot and he's picked those things up.”
Now, Durant is more equipped to do battle.
“I'm growing, man,” Durant explained. “I've been here for five years and I've seen a lot. I'm just trying to keep improving mentally.”