Kevin Durant sat at the podium following the Thunder’s series-clinching 120-109 victory over Memphis in Game 7 on Saturday night and poured out his heart.
For nearly 10 minutes, he gave the world a peek inside a presumptive Most Valuable Player’s psyche, sharing how the pressure of the postseason can confound and conquer the mind of even the most gifted ballplayer.
It wasn’t just Grizzlies hound Tony Allen that did a number on Durant. It was his own insatiable appetite for success, his fear of failure and his inability to tune out outside noise.
At some point in this slugfest of a series, it all became too much. First he began overthinking, then he started overcompensating and, finally, he traveled down the slippery slope of overanalyzing.
His mind became a magnificent mess. He listened to too many things, too many people, including media criticism that sprouted into a national story on the morning of Game 6.
“I was worried about what you guys were saying,” Durant told reporters. “I was worried about what shots I was going to shoot throughout a game. I was just thinking too much.”
Durant overcame it and, eventually, these Grizzlies by doing one thing.
“I got out my own way,” he said.
Durant didn’t change his mechanics. He changed his mentality.
He remembered his track record and soon realized he didn’t need to prove anything to anybody.
“I’ve validated myself,” Durant told The Oklahoman, as he strolled out of the Chesapeake Energy Arena corridors and into the loving embrace of family and friends responsible for helping him finally shake his four-game funk.
“I didn’t do it on my own,” Durant said. “I had so many people that were there supporting me and always gave me words of encouragement every single day after tough games. And (the media) motivated me a little bit even though I told you that you didn’t.”
Whatever it takes.
“We’re moving on,” Durant said.
Durant finished off the Grizzlies with his finest performance yet this postseason. He scored a game-high 33 points, pulled down eight rebounds, made 12 of 18 shots. For the second straight game, he took turns with Russell Westbrook picking apart the Grizzlies.
While enjoying his best shooting night of the series, Durant regained his touch from long distance. He hit all five of his 3-pointers, making more 3-pointers Saturday than he had made in the previous four games combined, when he was just 4-for-29 from that distance.
Westbrook added 27 points, 10 rebounds and franchise playoff record 16 assists. It was Westbrook’s third career triple-double and his second in this series. He joined Boston guard Rajon Rondo as the only two players in NBA history to register two triple-doubles in a Game 7. Jerry West, Larry Bird, James Worthy and Scottie Pippen are the only other players who claimed triple-doubles in a Game 7.
Their offense couldn’t have returned at a better time.
Not only did they lift the Thunder out of a 3-2 series hole, but their efforts might now provide the perfect bit of momentum needed as the Thunder prepares for a quick turnaround. Its second-round series gets underway in Oklahoma City on Monday.
And as the Thunder advances, it does so knowing Durant has his groove back. This first-round scare showed him and the Thunder they can’t afford for him to misplace it again.
“The game of basketball is played off of instincts,” Durant said. “I realized that I started playing this game to have fun, and I didn’t want to take the pure fun out of the game by just thinking too much. So I just released everything and enjoyed it. I knew if I play as hard as I could and put the work in for my team the results were going to show. I just forgot everything and just played my game.
Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook pick apart Grizzlies to give Thunder series win
The Oklahoman | May 4