When Houston’s Patrick Beverly torpedoed Russell Westbrook’s right leg, spinning Westbrook like a top and putting an alarming grimace on his face, one could only imagine what teammate Kevin Durant must have been thinking. There goes my floor general. There goes 23 points per game. With Westbrook done for the 2013 playoffs after participating in just two games, Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s once bubbling championship hopes had cooled to a controlled simmer.
So Durant did what a superstar does. He opened up his patented post-game backpack, stuffed his teammates inside of it, and strapped it to his shoulders. In the first game without Westbrook, Durant dropped 41 points. He has scored fewer than 30 points just once since his partner in crime went down. His minutes are up, he’s taking five more shots per game than he averaged during the regular season, and his rebound and assist totals are up as well. He is hitting impossible fallaway and-ones, mashing momentum-changing dunks and nailing game winners like he did in a Western Conference Semifinals Game One victory against the Memphis Grizzlies.
“This NBA life might be a little hectic. You might have a good game and think it’s going to be like that for the rest of the year, but it’s not,” Durant said. “That taught me to always make sure that no matter how good I get, I continue to work hard and keep getting better.”
Currently tied 1-1 with the Grizzlies in a series that seems destined to go the distance, Durant will have to continue doing more than he’s ever been asked to do. He will need to hit more contested 3-pointers. He will need to block more shots. He will need to perform more dazzling crossovers, find Serge Ibaka for more open 17-footers and dole out more advice to backup point guard Reggie Jackson on how to transition into playing starter minutes with Westbrook gone. Durant will do all of those things because the scent of a championship, after wafting close to his nostrils last season, smells too good to run and hide from. Durant will do all of these things because not doing them isn’t an option.
“This is my dream ever since six years old. I know it’s a long road ahead and I’ve got to continue to work to get better.”
Photo: USA Today