The NBA season is a marathon.
It’s true with most sports, but the world’s best basketball players seem to feel the grind more than others. This time of year there are plenty of veterans with sore knees, exhausted guards that are banged up from a season of punishment, and even the most valuable resource – motivation- can be lacking.
You could see it on the faces of the Oklahoma City Thunder. They weren’t sure if their coach knew what he was doing with rotations, their point guard seemed to be allergic to passing, and their superstar admitted that a pesky defender was “in his head” as he was shooting 30 percent from the field, 29 percent from downtown, and 76 percent at the line through five games of the greatest first round series of the last half decade.
That performance, when compared to an MVP-caliber season where Durant nearly reached the illustrious 40/50/90 plateau with his shooting percentages, caused The Oklahoman to drop a bombshell of a headline, which they later retracted, but may not have felt sorry about after all.
If this was a calculated move, a motivational ploy to wake up a sleeping dragon in KD and force his teammates to rally around him, it was the most brilliant decision ever made by a sports editor. The Thunder looked like a completely different team last night as they stepped on the Grizzlies’ necks early and never looked back. In fact, they looked like the team we expected them to look like after they dominated the regular season and came into the playoffs with two of the top 10 talents in the NBA.
Bulletin board material has become one of the most valuable assets in sports. We see it constantly in the NFL, and head coaches- such as the notoriously stoic Bill Belichick- will do everything in their power to prevent their players from mouthing off in order to motivate the other team. So if it works so well when the opposition spits venom in a team’s direction, why not have an insider produce some motivational words?
Whatever the intentions, there was no doubt that the disrespectful assertion worked. If there was a prop bet (I’m sure there was) on Durant scoring 30+ last night I would’ve taken all of that action. If the Grizzlies hadn’t been completely over matched by a Thunder team that made important adjustments, such as the insertion of Caron Butler into the starting lineup, and played hard for four quarters for the first time this series, Durant would’ve scored over 40.
It’s time for KD to remind everyone why he’s going to receive that MVP trophy in a couple of days. His combination of length and quickness makes him a mismatch for any defender, and he has no business deferring towards the end of games regardless of how pesky Tony Allen can be.
After carrying his team for most of the year and producing on a reliable level equaled only by Michael Jordan in the past two decades, Durant lost his focus and stumbled a bit, yet as the finality of last night’s elimination game and Saturday night’s Game 7 sets in, you can bet he will be willing to sprint towards the finish line.