As defining moments go, Game 6 of these Western Conference Finals on Saturday night from Chesapeake Energy Arena may not amount to more than a footnote in Kevin Durant’s fabled legacy.
His future is too bright, his body of work already too big.
But these are the moments that mean the most, the games that ultimately color a player’s greatness.
The Oklahoma City Thunder is now on the brink of elimination, staring at a 3-2 series hole against a San Antonio Spurs team that appears resolute in returning to the NBA Finals for a second consecutive season.
“That means do or die,” Durant said Friday. “That’s self-explanatory. If you can’t get up for that, then…”
Durant didn’t complete his sentence. Didn’t need to.
You know the rest. What the sports world deems athletes that can’t or don’t rise to the occasion.
“I’ve always been the guy that’s going to bring it and that’s going to play to win,” Durant continued. “It’s a must-win. I can’t sit home and think about it every single minute of the day. But I’ve got to know how important it is.”
Game 6 has been good to Durant this postseason. The star forward has been phenomenal in those contests, posting monster numbers and leading his team to pivotal victories in each of the first two rounds to help OKC get to this point.
But in order for the Thunder to keep its season alive, Durant might need to be even better Saturday night.
He’s the NBA’s reigning MVP, and with that award comes an expectation that the recipient demolishes any and everything standing between him and the sport’s promised land. Durant himself in recent days has brazenly boasted of another level to which he can take his game.
Yet despite a postseason performance that can be classified as something closer to solid than spectacular, Durant largely has dodged criticisms that his peers, players such as Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, routinely garner when their play falls short of lofty expectations.
Perhaps that’s why Durant said Friday that he doesn’t feel pressure to deliver in Game 6.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “Pressure comes from everybody else on the outside, from media, from friends, family. But I play this game because I love it, and I play to win. If I give it my all, it may not be enough for everybody else but I know what I gave so I can live with it.”
What you must understand about Durant is that he entered this season with a new attitude, a more mature mentality that prevents him from putting basketball above all else and allowing the results to consume him.
“I’ve learned not to let basketball take over my life,” he said again Friday, echoing sentiments he first shared with The Oklahoman in October. “So when I go home I try to release and just enjoy my life.”
Unless, of course, Durant doesn’t step up.
The truth is the MVP hasn’t had the greatest postseason. It rarely gets mentioned, as the majority of blame for Thunder losses typically lands at the feet of Thunder coach Scott Brooks, center Kendrick Perkins and point guard Russell Westbrook, perhaps in that order.
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