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Kevin Durant Delivers in Game 6

With the Thunder’s season on the brink, Kevin “Mr. Unreliable” Durant carried the Thunder past the Grizzlies to force a Game 7

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This is how the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “reliable:” able to be trusted to do or provide what is needed; able to be relied on. Giving the same result on successive trials…

Kevin Durant has started 447 games (out a possible 453) for the Oklahoma City Thunder over the past five years, and has averaged over 29 points per game in those contests – the highest scoring average in the entire league over this stretch. Earlier this season, From January 5-April 6, Durant went on a historical scoring binge. He surpassed Michael Jordan’s modern day record by scoring 25 or more points in 41 consecutive games. The multi-dimensional Durant also stuffed the stat sheet only a daily basis. In fact, Durant joined Jordan, Wilt Chamberlin and Elgin Baylor as just the fourth player in NBA history to average at least 32 points, 7 rebounds, and five assists per game over the course of a full season. Durant also remained incredibly efficient. He joined Jordan as the only player since 1985 to average 32 points per game while also shooting above 50 percent from the floor.

And his remarkably consistent success certainly isn’t limited to the regular season. Over the Thunder’s last 50 playoff games, Durant is averaging 29.2 points, 8.2 assists, and four rebounds. He’s scored in double-figures in every postseason game he’s ever played in.

In many ways, Durant is the NBA epitome of “reliable,” which is why it was laughable to see the headline “Mr. Unreliable” plastered above a picture of Durant on the cover of The Oklahoman Thursday morning.

The Oklahoman’s editor later apologized for the headline, yet many in the media seemed to celebrate the criticism of Durant. The explanation was that Durant has “gotten a pass” in his career to this point, and needs to be needled quite a bit more.

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Facing immense pressure in a do-or-die Game 6, Durant delivered. He scored a game-high 36 points and grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds.

We shouldn’t have been all that surprised that the ever-reliable Durant was able to deliver when his team needed him most.

While it is certainly understandable to demand a great deal from such a gifted athlete, those claiming that Durant doesn’t get grilled enough are off the mark.

It’s an issue that’s becoming more and more prevalent in today’s mainstream media. TV programs and websites are competing for viewers, ad dollars, or page views. This leads to excessive shouting and sensationalist proclamations intended attract attention. Traditional newspapers, who once considered themselves “above the fray,” are clearly influenced and pressured into blatant attempts to sell more papers.

Unfortunately, it’s no longer the sensible, salient points that get the most play on television. Rather, it’s the talking heads that shout the loudest who get top-billing. Similarly, well-written columns often get lost amidst the din of those with provocative headlines and incendiary commentary.

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Thus, the criticism of Durant was to be expected. However, let’s keep a few things in mind. First, the Thunder are still alive. If they can advance past Memphis in Game 7, they obviously have a legit shot to make major noise in the wide-open Western Conference.

Moreover, Durant, at age 25, is just now entering the prime of his career. We know about his regular season dominance, as evidenced by winning four of the last five scoring titles; but his postseason play has been spectacular as well.

Durant is currently fourth on the all-time career postseason scoring list. His scoring average of 28.7 points per game ranks behind only Jerry West, Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan.

And it’s not just his individual statistics that demand respect. Since celebrating his 21st birthday, Durant has 32 playoff games (and counting). To put that in context, Jordan won a total of just 14 postseason games from 21-25 years old.

Nearly as impressive as his play in Game 6 on Thursday night, was his reaction to the “Mr. Unreliable” controversy when meeting with the press on Thursday afternoon. When asked for his reaction, Durant explained: “That’s what they’re supposed to write. I didn’t come through for the team. So they got to write that type of stuff.” The guy just gets it.

He continued: “As a player and as a competitor, it’s going to be good and bad days. People are going to build you up. They’re going to break you down. They don’t allow you to stay even keel, and I think that’s what I am… That’s a part of their job. It’s all about what have you done for me lately. It really doesn’t matter to me.”

The sky is the limit for this young superstar. As he climbs to greater heights, more and more will be expected. The national attention, and corresponding criticism, will increase exponentially. However, it is safe to assume Durant will continue to “able to be trusted to do or provide what is needed.”

Tommy Beer is a Senior NBA Analyst and the Fantasy Sports Editor of Basketball Insiders, having covered the NBA for the last nine seasons.

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