An unexpected event is perilously close to making its way into the NBA history books in the very near future. If indeed Kevin Durant is named the league’s Most Valuable Player for the 2013-14 NBA season as projected, his Oklahoma City Thunder may have already been eliminated from the playoffs.
This has occurred only one other time since the league adopted its current playoff format 30 years ago. Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks was named the league’s 2006-07 MVP on May 15, 2007; Dallas was eliminated in the first round by the Golden State Warriors (4-2) on May 3rd.
The Thunder are in a wild first-round battle with the Memphis Grizzlies, with four of the five contests going into overtime. The Grizzlies have come away with three wins and may end the Thunder’s season in the next meeting.
To say this is surprising is an understatement of considerable proportions. The Thunder were projected to at least make it to the Western Conference Finals, and maybe even best the Miami HEAT to capture the NBA title this season. All the pieces were in place with a healthy roster, tons of playoff experience, veteran leadership and a superstar in Durant at the helm.
So what’s happening?
The answer is not singular; many things are going on here. If indeed No. 2 seed Oklahoma City is eliminated by No. 7 seed Memphis, there will be plenty of finger-pointing to go around.
While critics will assign blame to coach Scott Brooks and shot-happy Russell Westbrook, many will wonder why Durant didn’t put the team on his back as he’s done so many times in the past.
Make sure to read: The 2014 NBA Draft Early Entry list
“Four straight overtimes, it’s good basketball,” Durant said after the Game 5 loss in Oklahoma City. “We lost three of them, that’s the worst part; but we’re focused on the next game.”
Watching him play, this is not the Durant we know. We’ve seen him have a bad night – not at all uncommon in an 82-game NBA season – but he’s not shaking it off. He’s not knocking down open looks. He’s not looking assertive or poised. He’s not looking like a joyful Durant.
In the two past games Durant averaged 20.5 points, connecting on 15 of 45 field goal attempts (.328). He made four-of-15 in three-point range (.259) with three assists and 5.5 average turnovers.
Now compare that to his regular season average: 32.0 points, .503 in field goal shooting, 2.4 in threes at .391 percentage, 5.5 assists and 3.5 in turnovers.
Maybe it’s not fair to analyze just the past two games. Let’s look at the whole series: 28.0 points per game, 50-of-125 in field goals (.400) and 12-of-42 in three-pointers (.286). Still concerning.
One of the more shocking statistics involves Durant’s free-throw shooting. He averaged .873 during the regular season, yet in this series he’s recorded an average .696 at the foul line. One redeeming factor is rebounding; he’s averaging 9.8 per game compared to 6.9 during the season.
It could be the All-Star is exhausted from carrying the load earlier this year when Westbrook was out. Perhaps the pressure of living up to the perceived MVP of this league has finally done a number on his confidence. Maybe there’s a personal issue he’s dealing with off the court. Durant offers his explanation for why his shots just aren’t falling.
“Sometimes in this game, I get in my own way,” he said. “This game is mental. If you’ve got too much going on in your mind, stuff can go wrong, so just try to clear my mind and go out there and play the game. Whatever happens, it happens. Trust my instincts. I play extremely hard and for my team and everything will fall in line perfectly.
Everything is not falling in line perfectly during this series. The Grizzlies’ Tony Allen and others are not letting up on the choking defense on Durant.
“I always see guys when I have the ball,” said Durant. “I’ve just got to stay disciplined in my shots and knock them down. I missed a few layups, a few jumpers. I’ve got to be more aggressive. I’ve just got to stay positive. I’ll figure out where to catch the ball and how to be effective.”
After Game 5, a dejected Durant faced the media’s barrage of questions with his voice low and head resting on his hand. Then he said something that blew everyone away in response to why he wasn’t active in a long stretch of the fourth quarter.
“Sometimes you’ve got to be a decoy out there and I’m fine with that,” he explained. “Once the ball comes my way I’ve got to be ready, be aggressive when I touch it. If I want the ball I’ve got to go rebound it and bring it up on a break. I trust my teammates in whatever decisions they make. I’ve just got to be better for them.”
A decoy? The second-best player in this league? If he wants the ball, he’s got to go rebound it? Ten-page essays could be written in response detailing how those statements are suspect.
It’s not like these games have been blowouts. It’s not like Memphis is a bad team. They most certainly are not. However, something is not right. If the Thunder’s season does indeed end early, everyone will rush to examine and dissect all the many reasons to explain the disappointment. Durant, the consensus nicest guy in the league, doesn’t receive a ton of criticism. That might change. A player of his caliber and the imminent MVP should not be turning in performances like we’ve seen in the first round.
- 76ers star Joel Embiid still leads NBA in scoring with 32 points per game
- Austin Reaves is following in Michael Jordan’s footsteps with new contract
- Celtics’ Kristaps Porzingis (calf) to miss NBA In-Season Tournament quarterfinals
- Nets’ Ben Simmons (back) to remain out for at least 2 more weeks
- Mavericks’ Luka Doncic welcomes first child with fiancée Anamaria Goltes
NBA 2 weeks ago
Josh Giddey, Underage Girl Go Viral After Leaked Photos On Social Media
NBA 1 week ago
Kevin Durant reveals he requested a trade out of Brooklyn because they didn’t ‘build an identity’
Main Page 2 weeks ago
LaMelo Ball becomes 2nd-fastest, 3rd-youngest player in NBA history to reach 500 career 3-pointers
Main Page 2 weeks ago
Timberwolves’ Jaden McDaniels out 2-3 weeks with right ankle sprain