INDIANAPOLIS — The game clock was low and the Thunder was down.
But three points is a deficit Kevin Durant erases with a flick of his wrist.
And on Sunday, on the road, in a hostile environment, against a desperate team, it all set up for Durant to dish more heartbreak and build on his “Slim Reaper” rep.
With 58 seconds remaining, Durant shook free from his defender, using the best double screen money can buy in teammates Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. He caught an inbounds pass from Russell Westbrook just beyond the top of the 3-point arc. Took one dribble, rose and released.
It was blocked, stuffed right back toward the hands from which the shot came by Indiana forward David West.
Durant would get another chance. Down four with 8.3 seconds remaining, he curled around another set of screens, hauled in an inbounds pass from Thabo Sefolosha, squared up from virtually the same spot, aimed and fired. He stared down his release.
Pacers 102, Thunder 97.
And by the time Durant walked out of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, his two costly and uncharacteristically bad crunch-time misses not only overshadowed his 38-point performance, but they also suggested that there was something more in play with Durant’s recent shooting struggles.
Fortunately for the Thunder, Durant rejected the reason it appears to be — fatigue.
“I’m just taking bad ones,” Durant said of his shot selection. “I’m taking bad 3s.”
Durant went 2-for-11 from 3-point range Sunday. Just seven days earlier, in a road loss at Phoenix, Durant hoisted a career-high 15 3-pointers. He hit only four of those.
Over the past five games, Durant is just 9-for-39 from that distance, a 7.8-attempt average and 23 percent rate that proves he’s settling for and struggling with shots from that distance.
In game No. 80, with 42 more minutes piled on top of his league-leading minutes-played tally Sunday, it would be understandable if Durant has lost his legs. The sight of many of his long-distance attempts coming up short over the past week even lends credence to that theory.
But Durant insists that’s not the case, and this time his honest self-reflection strikes different than all the other times he’s simply dismissed fatigue as a factor.
“I feel like I can hit any shot,” Durant said. “But when I sit back and look at it, they’re tough 3s to make. I’m overconfident, I think, when I shoot those shots. So I’ve got to scale them back a little bit and shoot those ones that I know I can for sure hit, like the wide open ones and the ones that I’m just standing still instead of the pull-up. So I just got to be better.”
In this case, with a season nearly in the books and the playoffs around the corner, ushering in more discipline could prove less difficult for Durant than finding fresh legs. By the sound of it, his head is in the right place.
“We’ve got two games left,” Durant said. “Got to correct it for the playoffs and just keep being confident in myself.”
The Thunder also can’t fall back into a pattern of waiting for Durant to do it all. Reserve guard Reggie Jackson stressed the need for every player to be a threat so teams can’t load up on Durant. If the Thunder does that and makes defenses respect all five players on the floor, Durant will experience more one-on-one matchups, which always favor OKC.
“We can’t necessarily over-feed him,” Jackson said. “Well, I don’t know if you can over-feed KD, actually. But we’ve just got to find better spots and get him easier shots.”
For now, no one is concerned with Durant’s past few, and rightfully so given his track record.
“A guy who’s in the 90-50-40 club, I don’t think you ever lose faith in his ability to put the ball in the basket,” Jackson said. “He has a miraculous knack for making shots, creating space and finding shots. We’re never going to doubt him.”
It’s all on Durant then to display better discipline.