Updated: May 20, 2012, 4:47 AM ET

1. Durant Delivers Every Way In Game 4

By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Kevin Durant is the most valuable player in these playoffs.

Ordinarily it would be foolish to make sweeping generalizations based on one day in one building ... but with half the remaining NBA participants in action inside Staples Center on Saturday, I'm confident in these proclamations: The San Antonio Spurs are the best team, and Oklahoma City's Durant is the best player.

You can't ask a guy to do more to deliver a playoff victory than Durant did down the stretch in the Thunder's 103-100 Game 4 victory that gave them a 3-1 lead in the series against the Lakers. He guarded Kobe Bryant while Bryant was in the process of missing eight of nine fourth-quarter shots (that doesn't count the meaningless last-second shot that went in). For the game, Bryant shot 0-for-4 with Durant guarding him.

Kevin Durant
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

Durant came up with his second big steal of the series, this time when Pau Gasol ignored an open shot and made a pass that disappointed Mike Brown and infuriated Bryant. He hit a baseline jumper to tie the game and a 3-pointer to put the Thunder up for good with 13.7 seconds remaining.

We're watching the evolution before our eyes. From scorer to clutch scorer to all-around performer. So thorough were his contributions that his two big shots weren't the first thing his teammates and coach noticed about his performance.

"Kevin's defense at the end," was Thunder coach Scott Brooks' initial mention of him.

And Derek Fisher, who has been on the court with some of the game's greatest players in the most important games over the past 12 years, said: "To me one of the most impressive things today was his rebound numbers [13 of 'em] and the way he fought defensively. He guarded Pau Gasol for 5-10 minutes, he guarded Kobe for 5-10 minutes, he guarded [Metta] World Peace for 10-15 minutes. He's willing to do everything."

Most of all, he's willing to take the clutch shots. That's where we place the most value, what we debate and analyze and devote entire segments of TV sports shows to, the clutch shots. The sportstalkosphere has become so prevalent that Durant admitted that when he lofted that final 3-pointer, while the ball was in the midst of his typical high-arching trajectory, he was worrying about the ramifications if it missed.

"I was thinking, 'If this doesn't go in, it's going to be a terrible shot,'" Durant said. "They're going to criticize me all night."

You still have to take them, though, which is what Kobe has steadfastly maintained this series, whether he was sinking free throws all night the way he did in Game 3 or coming up short in the fourth quarter, as he did in Games 2 and 4. Bryant zinged Gasol on Saturday night for his lack of aggressiveness (no shots, no rebounds in the fourth quarter), and felt no need to apologize for the way the offense stalled and the Lakers' 13-point lead evaporated after he returned in the fourth quarter with the Lakers while he was left to launch high-arching shots over Durant late in the shot clock.

Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook was going tete-a-tete with Kobe and then some, scoring nine consecutive points for the Thunder in the fourth quarter and 38 overall. But when he came up with the ball after the Lakers narrowly avoided a shot-clock violation, he slowed things down and looked for Durant on the left block, against Bryant.

"He's the best scorer in the game," Westbrook said. "He's proven it all season long. He has the confidence in the closing minute in the fourth quarter.

"My job as the point guard is to let him finish it off."

And so Durant did, with a lovely spin and a baseline jumper, on the opposite side from where he hit his winning shot in Game 2. That tied it. Kendrick Perkins put back a Westbrook miss to give the Thunder their first lead. And after two Bryant free throws, Durant drove home that killer 3-pointer, brining his point total to 31, giving him 10 makes in 18 field goal attempts.

"That's who Kevin is," Fisher said. "He's one of those special players that we get the privilege of seeing come through our league."

And right now, in the time that matters the most, no one is performing better.


Dimes past: May 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18

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