May 1, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) attempts a shot against Houston Rockets forward Greg Smith (4) during the second half in game five of the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Rockets defeated the Thunder 107-100. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
While the Oklahoma City Thunder still lead the series 3-2, it seems that the upper hand in momentum, and possibly talent, are now in the Houston Rockets favor.
One glaring observation has been the change in Kevin Durant’s body language and attitude since Russell Westbrook was lost for the rest of the playoffs. For the first time playing without Westbrook in Durant’s career since he was still a Seattle Supersonic, Durant has not been able to handle the pressure, mentally. Physically, he has performed well; scoring 41, 38, and 36 points in the three games since Westbrook’s injury, but has not been able to lead his team to victory against one of the poorest defensive teams in the league. Granted, the Thunder’s supporting cast has looked lost, slow, lethargic, and inferior at times in both defeats to the Rockets, but it’s on Durant’s shoulders to put all that aside.
In the postgame interview after the game 5 loss, Durant refused to acknowledge Omer Asik when referring to the Thunder’s strategy of intentionally fouling Rockets center.
“We used hack-a …” [Durant] stumbled, trying to say Asik’s name, “whatever his name is, that kind of slowed the rhythm down a bit.”
Oh by the way, Asik went 13 for 18 from the free the line in the game, and finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
It’s no secret that the Rockets have mentally got into Durant’s head. There have been a number of actions that Durant has displayed in the series that have been very uncharacteristic of his smooth, calm, like-able personality. In a season where Durant was called for a very uncharacteristic 12 technical fouls, his level of frustration has reached an all-time high, stemming from the Sports Illustrated interview where he stated that he was tired of always finishing second.
Durant has been irked by Francisco Garcia’s 94-feet ball denying defense each of the last two games. In game 5, as Durant was held scoreless in the fourth quarter. After missing his fifth and final shot attempt of the quarter, Durant immediately turned to referee Bill Spooner and expressed his complaints before being called for a technical foul, as the rest of the players were already running to the other end.
Earlier in the game, as Durant was dribbling down the court to call a Thunder time-out, he was seen turning away from the Thunder bench to bark at somebody on the Rockets bench before being pulled away by his teammates.
This comes after Durant took a swipe at Jeremy Lin’s bruised chest in game 3 when Lin was dribbling down to call a time out. In what was an attempt to retaliate for Patrick Beverley’s steal attempt on Westbrook that would eventually injure him, Durant’s intentional swipe looked to be the bush league and dirty play compared to Beverley’s play:
Durant is in an unfamiliar territory right now, and it’s obvious that he’s having trouble adjusting and coping with the change of not having his side-kick. This gives the Rockets a great opportunity to build on their momentum. Reggie Jackson, Kevin Martin, Derek Fisher, and Thabo Sefolosha have not been able to knock down open shots in the previous two games. If Durant continues to look to pass out of the double team instead of attacking right when he gets the ball, then the Rockets chances of winning game 6 will look very good.