Posted May 20 2012 10:45AM - Updated May 20 2012 8:21PM
LOS ANGELES -- Kevin Durant, after being in the right place at the other end to accept the ball Pau Gasol all but handed to him gift wrapped with about 30 seconds remaining in the game, dribbled down court.
He came to a near stop and kept dribbling.
"I wanted to run the shot clock down and get the last shot," Durant later explained.
He was a couple steps behind the 3-point arc. Metta World Peace was close by for defense.
"Standing up there," Durant said, "I was just trying to look at the whole picture on the floor and see where I can get the best shot possible."
He thought about how the Lakers had been doing a good job of converging when he went to the rim.
"I saw Artest back up just a hair."
Shot. A 3-pointer, nearly straight-away, with about 15 seconds left.
"It left my hand and I was thinking, 'If this doesn't go in, it's going to be a terrible shot. They're going to criticize me a lot.' "
It went in with 13.7 seconds to go, putting the Thunder ahead for good with a 101-98 lead that would become a 103-100 victory at Staples Center on Saturday night in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals and a 3-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series.
It was Durant at his cold-blooded finest, stepping up to meet the moment, in the face of adversity on the road, firing daggers at the opponent. But he was so wrong.
No one able to pass a competency hearing is going to criticize Durant for taking a terrible shot. That wouldn't happen on any serious level, not with all the good will he has built up with his lethal offensive game and his personality. It's not taking shots that will get him into trouble.
Durant has made commendable strides this season as a distributor, expanding his arsenal of ways to water board an opponent. The Thunder love it because the new look makes them tougher to defend and create a third playmaker, along with Russell Westbrook and James Harden. It's just that every other team likes it more.
Anything that gets Durant out of scoring mode is a good thing for the rest of the league, and it is impossible for Oklahoma City and even Durant himself to deny he is still trying to find the right balance between being unselfish and being too unselfish. On those nights when too unselfish becomes blending in the background while waiting for teammates to seize a moment, the Thunder have real problems.
Saturday was looking like one of those nights. There were glimpses of it much of the series actually, the way Durant had gone from an average of 19.7 shots a game during the regular season to 16 or fewer in two of the first three games, but this was now the Lakers threatening a 2-2 tie just before heading back to Chesapeake Energy Arena.
It was the fourth quarter of a close game in a possible intersection of the season if the Thunder were going to give the Lakers a restart in the series, and the three-time scoring champion of the league actually did not touch the ball on three consecutive possessions in the second half of the period. Not even touch it. The streak was broken only because he grabbed a defensive rebound and pushed it to the other end himself before being fouled in the lane, leading to a pair of made free throws and a 94-94 game with 2:58 remaining.
That much time without a prominent role in the offense can't happen.
"Sometimes it is tough to find a balance of knowing when to pass and knowing when is the right time to shoot," Durant admitted. "But I've always got to be aggressive to make the right play. Sometimes that's for me to throw it to Serge (Ibaka) for a corner jump shot, or dump it down to Perk (Kendrick Perkins) for a wide-open dunk knowing that coming down on the defensive end they're going to give us their best effort every time down. Sometime, I might have to sacrifice my shot just to give my big fellas some confidence -- Thabo (Sefolosha) some confidence, Russ, James, whoever. I'm kind of learning when to take over and when to take shots. My teammates always feed me and I've got to do a great job of finishing."
He meant finishing the play. But it has to be about finishing the game right, too. This is Kevin Durant, and not taking shots should be the only thing that will get him into trouble.
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