Kevin Durant soared through the Dallas air Thursday night, soared maybe higher than he's ever soared before, to slam on 7-foot Maverick Brendan Haywood.
Both Durant and Scotty Brooks called it their favorite dunks ever. ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy called it the NBA's play of the year. Mark Jackson called it one of the five best playoff dunks ever.
Durant soared so high, he didn't even emotionally descend upon landing. Durant was so pumped up, he did a very un-Durantlike thing. He talked smack.
“AND-ONE!” Durant yelled at Haywood, which drew an immediate technical foul.
“I loved it,” said Thunder teammate Kendrick Perkins.
Which? The dunk or the technical?
“Both,” said the Thunder's resident rogue. “I loved the attitude.”
As the Thunder hosts Dallas on Saturday night in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, the attitude is spreading.
The Thunder — this young, this happy, this boy-scout-of-a-basketball team — is the NBA leader in playoff technicals.
Everyone knew Perkins could alienate anyone in a striped shirt. Or that the hot-blooded Russell Westbrook could draw a reprimand. But Serge Ibaka, who barely speaks English? Nick Collison, from the distinctly anti-technical foul hamlet of Iowa Falls, Iowa? Kevin Durant, the humble superstar?
All have technicals this post-season. Durant has two. Westbrook four. Perk five. The Thunder has 16 in 14 games. Even Thabo Sefolosha has been T'd up, and Thabo is from Switzerland.
It's almost enough to make Perkins stop scowling.
“I don't think being nice is getting you where you need to go,” Perkins said.
The Thunder is playing with an edge. With an attitude. The Thunder got shoved around a year ago in the Laker playoff series. A year older, a year wiser, a year with Perk serving as body guard, the Thunder is shoving back.
“We've had some personnel changes,” Collison said with a smile, referring to the trade that brought Gran Torino over from Boston.
Perkins' arrival did more than bring a defensive mentality and girth in the paint. Perk showed his new teammates how to be mean.
True story. Some game a few weeks ago, Perkins griped about a call, the ref called a technical and told Perk to stop yelling.
Responded Perkins, with a glare, “Don't you talk that way to me.” Just in case the ref missed it, Perkins repeated his message. “Don't you talk that way to me.”
How can that kind of attitude not rub off?
Perkins admits he wants the Thunder to play with more swagger. To play mean.
And that includes Durant, the charming, smiling, lovable beanstalk whose talent is surpassed only by his humility.
“Guys mistake his kindness for weakness,” Perkins said. “There are teams that come in trying to out-tough him. He's starting to get a mean streak. Once he gets it...”
Don't worry. It's coming fast. In addition to the technical foul, Durant engaged in a virtual Game 2 shoving match with Dallas' DeShawn Stevenson for positioning. The whistle never blew.
“I guess because I'm skinny, they think I'm soft,” Durant said. “I make it up with my heart and my will and my aggressiveness.
“And this time of year, they let us get away with definitely more stuff.”
Now, the Thunder can't get too wild. Can't resort to anarchy. Seven technicals in the playoffs result in a one-game suspension. So Perkins has to be careful. No reason for Westbrook to risk it, either.
But it's hard not to like the results of this new attitude.
“I like seeing KD show some emotion at times,” Brooks said. “He does a great job keeping it in. But after a dunk like that, how can you not get fired up?”
The Thunder is an emotional group. No reason to bottle up that passion. Let it out. Or the Thunder will just make Perkins madder.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.