MIAMI – Kevin Durant stood stoically alongside an arena wall late Sunday as he waited his turn to explain the Oklahoma City Thunder's second straight NBA Finals loss. He was lost in his own thoughts until the frustration of the evening was finally too much for even him to contain. He belted out a choice expletive before making his way to the stage.
Durant had reason to be mad. Foul trouble limited him for the second straight game and sent him to the bench for the final five minutes, 41 seconds of the third quarter as a 10-point lead for the Thunder turned into a two-point deficit. Durant never regained his rhythm, and the Heat went on to win 91-85 and take a 2-1 lead in the Finals.
“He’s got to play smarter,” Thunder center Kendrick Perkins said. “Those were fouls. Maybe the charge was kind of questionable, but at the end of the day, they’re fouls. We need him on the court at all times, so he may have to give up a layup. He just has to play smarter, and I think Kevin will.”
Said Durant: “It was frustrating.”
For the game's first 2½ quarters, Durant played as dominant as he has throughout the series. After burying one jumper over Dwyane Wade, he turned to the Heat guard and said, "You're too small." He threw down a two-handed dunk in the third quarter then followed with a running bank shot to push OKC's lead to nine. The Thunder were in control, and Durant looked unstoppable.
At least until he picked up his fourth foul as Wade baited him into contact with a fake. Durant went to the bench after Wade's first free throw and the Thunder never recovered.
“I knew he had three [fouls],” Wade said. “I knew this team was very athletic, so sometimes you go in there, you can’t leave your feet. So when I went in there and he jumped, I knew I had him for his fourth at that time.”
Not long after, Thunder coach Scott Brooks sat point guard Russell Westbrook for the rest of the third quarter because he was playing erratically. With Durant and Westbrook watching, the Heat outscored the Thunder 16-7 to close the quarter.
"I had a nice rhythm going on the offensive end," Durant said, "and for it to just stop like that by me going out of the game because of fouls is kind of tough."
Should Brooks have gambled and left Durant on the court with four fouls?
“That’s coach’s call,” Durant said.
Brooks put Durant and Westbrook back on the court to start the final quarter. Durant picked up his fifth foul on a three-point play by LeBron James that extended the Heat's lead to seven with 3:47 remaining.
“I saw KD going for the charge, so I kind of went away from him a little bit and was able to get the block,” James said.
Durant seemed tentative defensively the rest of the way; James, his assignment, scored eight points in the fourth quarter. He also didn't do much on the other end of the floor in the final quarter, committing two turnovers and missing four of his six shots and two free throws. He scored 25 points for the game, but 21 of them came before he went to the bench midway through the third quarter. He attempted just four foul shots of his own in the game.
“We’ve got to do a better job defending them without fouling,” Brooks said. “Kevin had five fouls on him, only four free throws. He has to be able to go to the free-throw line. That’s when we’re at our best.”
Durant, who averaged 34 points in the first two games of the series, also had five fouls in Game 2. His foul trouble wasn't the only reason OKC lost Game 3 – James Harden had just nine points while missing all but two of his 10 shots – but Durant's talent usually allows the Thunder to overcome some of their mistakes and deficiencies.
If Durant's on the floor, the Thunder always have a chance to win. If the whistle keeps blowing and he's not … this won't be the last expletive he mutters.
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