Hasheem Thabeet missed a defensive assignment and Kevin Durant went bananas, barking at the first-year Thunder big man mercilessly as the two transitioned to the offensive end.
Reggie Jackson hesitated to throw an entry pass to Durant in the post, and the reigning three-time scoring champ ruthlessly chewed out his team's second-year point guard.
Dan Crawford called Kendrick Perkins for a foul on a screen that was supposed to free Durant for an uncontested shot, and the Thunder superstar callously cursed the referee, resulting in his first career ejection.
This, it seems, is the new Kevin Durant.
The NBA's most celebrated golden boy is increasingly exhibiting a mean streak. In his sixth season, Durant has grown more animated than ever on the court. Teammates, opponents and referees are all feeling his fury. No longer is it uncommon to see Durant throw down a highlight dunk and stare down an opponent. Or drain a 3-pointer in front of the opposing bench and turn and talk smack to the coaches.
In a home game against New Orleans last month, Hornets assistant coach Randy Ayers had to shoo Durant away as he belittled the bench immediately after a pivotal basket. Earlier in the year, on the road against the same Hornets squad, Durant and head coach Monty Williams got into a heated verbal exchange just before going their respective ways at halftime.
They're all antics that have been quite surprising from a player who, before this season, had enjoyed a more pristine reputation. Considering that track record, Durant's recent on-court conduct has been all the more confusing. He's mean mugging more, thumping his chest harder and swearing uncontrollably.
In a three-game stretch, from last Wednesday to Sunday, Durant was whistled for three technical fouls in three games. He was called for two consecutive techs in the final minutes of a Jan. 2 home loss to Brooklyn, resulting in him not being around to see the Nets put the finishing touches on a 17-point drubbing.
Two games later, during a Sunday win at Toronto, Durant picked up another tech. It prompted him after the game to jokingly blame Kendrick Perkins for being “a bad influence on my life.” Durant then vowed to be better and apologized.
“I got to calm down sometimes,” Durant said. “I get too excited and too emotional in the game and it takes over me for the bad when I get those techs … I just got to calm down a little bit because the refs are really doing a great job. We're getting to the line a lot as a team. I guess I'm trying to be a little greedy with the calls. I just got to calm down.”
Durant denied the notion that his growing temper has anything to do with his new Nike campaign, which is marketing him with the slogan “KD is not nice.”
“I'm not going to risk no $2,000 a tech just for no marketing campaign with Nike,” Durant said. “I got to pay for those techs.”
Nike, nonetheless, is getting plenty of material.
Durant has been called for six technical fouls entering Sunday's road game at Portland. Only six players have been called for more. Durant is tied with the notoriously (and admittedly) temperamental Russell Westbrook for the team lead — both of whom have one more than Perkins, who perennially sits atop the penalized list.
Before this season, Durant had never been called for more than five technical fouls. He said the recently adopted “respect for the game” rule has played a factor.
“You can't clap at them,” Durant said of NBA officials. “You can't throw your fist at them or anything like that, or scream.”
Durant added that sometimes he simply disagrees and is voicing his displeasure.
“Some calls I think are good calls. Some calls I think are bad calls,” he said. “They should give me a reward for how many calls I think are good. But they penalize me for the ones I think that aren't. But that's part of the game.”
Westbrook said Durant's new demeanor is only a part of his will to win.
“He wants to win, man,” Westbrook said. “The young Thunder team is out the window. We all old enough now to take ownership in what we do. Kevin's come in this year taking ownership. He feels like he needs to step up and he's doing it.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks, so far, hasn't had an issue with the new Durant.
“I don't mind that emotion,” Brooks said. “You just don't want it to come out and be a distraction. But I wouldn't even categorize it as being a distraction. He's a competitor. But he does it in such a smooth way. He doesn't ever seem to get too emotional where it's going to demand the attention of a referee to get a technical.”
What's clear is that fans and analysts who have long asked to see more fire from Durant are starting to get their wish. But it's been a progression that has taken shape naturally as Durant has matured.
“You have to play to your personality,” Brooks said. “You don't want to be a phony on the court and Kevin's not. He's a nice young man that competes and competes fairly and competes the best way that he knows how to.”
Only now Durant is in your face as he dominates.
“I always want him to do that. I be trying to get him to do that most of the time,” said Westbrook. “But most of the time it just be me screaming or doing something crazy. So now it's both of us.”
GRUMPY OLD MAN?
A look at how Kevin Durant's technical foul count has risen through the years.