Found May 17, 2012 on Fox Sports West:
OKLAHOMA CITY Thunder forward Kevin Durant had been over-passing all night, frustratingly so, giving the ball up on much easier shots than this obstacle course that lay ahead of him now. So pass seemed like a good guess. Instead, KD drove. He drove without fear of what if, without doubt of himself, without the burden of previous failures which do exist. It ended with him floating in a seven-footer over Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol with 18.6 seconds remaining. This was the moment in Oklahoma City's 77-75 victory over L.A. in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals Wednesday, and KD had owned it. "As a kid, you always counted down in your backyard. You want to make that last shot, or you want to take it," Durant said. "And if I miss, I am going to walk off the court like nothing happened and wait for that next opportunity. There are going to be times when I miss those shots. But I know if it comes around again I am going to have the confidence to take it." And at that moment, all I thought about was LeBron James. What a dichotomy. Only 24 hours before in another Game 2, on another home court, with another upset bid and Miami had sent Mario Chalmers to take on the moment. Why not LeBron? Who knows, or maybe we do. Maybe, it is that same fear of failure that paralyzed him a year ago in the NBA Finals against Dallas. The Thunder are fearless while the Heat and LeBron so obviously feel that pressure, and sometimes wilt underneath. This is why, after watching this Thunder team through a series against the Mavs and some of another against the Lakers, I am more convinced the Dream Team is in OKC, not Miami. They are young, unafraid, unburdened. No one is really to blame for this, other than maybe my media friends. They threw a hypothetical pep rally down in Miami two summers ago, and we bought into the idea that a championship already had been won, ignoring Dwyane Wade's age and LeBron's issues in winning time. This has been dismissed as narrative. Until proven otherwise, I tend to think LeBron has a winning problem. As I listened to Lakers coach Mike Brown talk Wednesday about Durant, I wondered if he had been able to say this about LeBron, if Erik Spoelstra could now. "That is what great players are supposed to do, take on the challenge at the end of the game," Brown said of Durant. "He basically won the game for them." Yes, Kobe Bryant failed at this Wednesday. His was a failure of opportunity. With the Lakers down one in the final seconds, Brown said the inbounds play was for Kobe. He said Kobe was open. Kobe said the play was for Kobe. Kobe kind of said Kobe was open. "I don't know what Metta saw," he said, being very politically savvy. "But once I turned around, I saw the ball in the air and I was trying to get in position to get a rebound." Translation: Yo, World Peace. Throw the ball to me next time. Many will be selling Laker choke and, maybe, they are right. The Lakers were up seven with 2:08 remaining with the best closer in the world on their team. The Lakers, in general, and Kobe, in particular, made some uncharacteristic miscues. There were two turnovers. There were layups by OKC. This is the second time, though, the Thunder have done this in these playoffs. The Mavericks led by almost that same amount in Game 1 of the first round, and Oklahoma City found a way back in for a W. Is there luck involved with this? Absolutely. Does this eventually catch up with a team? Probably. Also it speaks to a team that is not afraid of failure. They were playing awful 12 points in the third quarter awful and found a way to win anyway. They found a way to win despite having KD and James Harden being held down, despite playing at a tempo beneficial to L.A., despite trailing by seven late. They won by 29 when on top of their game in Game 1. They won by a point when off. It is hard to imagine an older team like the Lakers winning two games in two nights like this crazy L.A. arena schedule dictates, though I am not ready to totally dismiss them. Underestimating Kobe makes me nervous. If OKC wins, this would set up NBA commissioner David Stern's second-worst nightmare first having been Mavericks owner Mark Cuban winning a championship of an OKC-San Antonio West finals. Who knows if OKC gets past San Antonio. Also who knows if the Heat reach the final round again. What I do know for sure is I would like the Thunder very much in that series for the simple fact that KD is not afraid. It was not KD's best statistical game. L.A. did a good job of defending him and he was overpassing. What he did was play defense, good defense on Kobe at the end and, when the moment called for it, he drove in unafraid and unburdened. "I have had so many bad times in the fourth," Durant said, "where I missed shots, turned the ball over and through those times I learned. and I know if It comes around again I am going to have the confidence to take it." This is why I am convinced the Dream Team is in OKC, not Miami.
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