The other side of Kevin Durant
Oklahoma City's favorite son torches L.A., adds mean streak to his superstar game
LOS ANGELES -- You know what I call Kevin Durant's six technical fouls this season? A good start.
"Everybody wanted me to be mean and wanted me to have an attitude, so you can't get mad at me for having a few techs," Durant said.
He said it lightheartedly. He went on to say that he knows kids are watching and he needs to set a good example. Then he adopted a puppy from the local animal shelter.
Okay, so he didn't adopt a dog Friday. That's what the old Durant would have done. The new Durant stomped on the pathetic pooch that is the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers, dropping 42 points, eight rebounds and five assists, as the Oklahoma City Thunder pushed the Lakers a step closer to the brink with a 116-101 victory.
So cold, yet so good to see from him.
It's part of the edgier Durant, the one accompanied by a Nike campaign that insists he is "not nice."
He picked up the first ejection of his career on Jan. 2, when he yelled at official Dan Crawford, who quickly dismissed him with two technical fouls. Four days later, I happened to be watching the Thunder play the Toronto Raptors when Durant was T'd by responding to a charge call against him with "That's f---ing bulls---."
"It's something new for all of us," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "I never thought I would have to answer a question about Kevin's technicals."
All for the better. Not that there was much to dislike about Durant before. A two-time scoring champion by the age of 23, looked up to by youngsters, respected by the old heads. Only it wasn't quite enough. Not enough to get him a most valuable player award, not enough to win a championship.
Michael Jordan wouldn't be Michael Jordan without the petty, vindictive side of him we saw in his Hall of Fame induction speech. Kobe Bryant doesn't do soft and cuddly. They probably have more championship rings than close friends, and they're fine with that.
There are certain truisms in the NBA. You need multiple superstars to win a championship. And one of those stars better have a mean disposition, or at least be able to summon one on demand, as LeBron James did against Boston in Game 6 last season.
You know what's making it harder on Durant? That we're not being harder on him. Because he's so likeable he didn't face a barrage of criticism for losing in the NBA Finals. That meant he had to generate the outrage from within.
Granted, you need an electron microscope to find the flaws with Durant. His scoring and field goal percentage increased in every stage of the playoffs, going from 26.5 points per game on 46 percent shooting in the first-round sweep of Dallas to 30.6 points on 55 percent shooting against Miami in the Finals. His issues were emotional, not statistical.
Did anything Durant did during the Finals resonate with you? Did he make any of the games in late June feel like they belonged to him? Even teammate Russell Westbrook made a bigger impression, going for 43 points in Game 4.
Friday night was far from an NBA Finals matchup. The Lakers had lost five consecutive games and are slipping out of the playoff picture. Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol are still out indefinitely, and the Lakers learned during the game that Jordan Hill will miss the rest of the season with a hip injury. So much for the one advantage the Lakers had: size.
The tricky thing is, if the Lakers managed to get into the playoffs, no one would want to face them. The one thing Jim Buss said that made any sense during his radio appearance on ESPN LA 710 Thursday was that if the Lakers make the playoffs, it means they will have gotten hot in the second half of the season.
The playoffs typically feature slower paces and more time to rest, which would play to the Lakers. They'd be a tough out.
It felt like Durant killed all of those thoughts Friday night. Five games out of the final Western Conference playoff spot with 46 games remaining, the Lakers aren't mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. But they are realistically. As Mike D'Antoni said, "we cannot make any false steps." This team lacks the resolve and defensive prowess to withstand three months of must-wins.
Durant usually doesn't strike first. He likes to get his teammates involved before he starts casting shots. Midway through the first quarter, the Lakers' Robert Sacre, who started in Howard's absence, had outscored Durant, 4-2.
Then it happened.
Durant scored seven points in less than two and a half minutes. The Thunder were up by 11 and it was obvious to whom this one belonged. Durant scored nine points in the first quarter, 16 in the second and 15 in the third.
"Kevin took control most of the game," Westbrook said.
"With Kevin, he's an emotional guy," Brooks said. "But you don't really see it in a way that some players display it. He keeps a lot of it inside, but he's competitive as anybody we have on this team."
He unleashed everything on the Lakers Friday night. He pumped his fist after forcing a turnover against World Peace. He glared at official Eric Dalen when a call didn't go his way. He somersaulted in celebration after draining a 3-pointer right before the halftime buzzer.
He's starting to understand the process. Scowl first, smile later.
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