x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Kevin Durant is turning a cerebral assassin for Thunder

The Oklahoma City Thunder forward is unlocking his potential as well as serving the team's cause, says Steve Dilbeck.

Kevin Durant is not only good in the air but slices through the lane and helps move the ball.
Kevin Durant is not only good in the air but slices through the lane and helps move the ball.

No rational observer ever doubted the talent of Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder forward. Not from the moment he was selected with the second pick in the 2007 draft, and certainly not since he won, in 2010, the first of three consecutive scoring titles.

But something else is going on now, a development that goes beyond his feathery jump shot, his floaters in the lane or the rim-shattering dunks.

The exuberance of youth is giving way to the cold detachment of a basketball assassin.

Durant has his orders, he knows precisely how to carry them out and when a game hangs in the balance he is the man who shoots first and asks questions later.

Some wondered if he had a hit man's temperament after the Thunder exited the play-offs in the first round in 2010 and lost in the conference semi-finals in five games to the Dallas Mavericks last season. But this Durant is not that mild-mannered one.

In Game 4 of the Western Conference finals on Saturday, the San Antonio Spurs pulled to within four points of the Thunder in Oklahoma with less than seven minutes to play. Durant responded by seizing the game by the throat.

He scored 16 consecutive points for Oklahoma City. He hit fade-away and turnaround jumpers, sliced through the lane, skied through the arena. The Spurs were helpless to stop him.

He was calm in the centre of the play-offs storm, the poised superstar clearly at home in the game's biggest moment.

"I just try to take it on, try not to be nervous," Durant said. "Sometimes it's nerve-racking playing those games like that. But I just try to calm down and go with my instincts."

In the first half, he demonstrated another skill to unnerve the Spurs, a willingness to take what was given. He became an enthusiastic passer. He helped big men Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka get untracked. The ball moved, players got their touches, the Thunder acted as a team. He had eight assists to go with his 36 points.

"It picks the whole team up," said Nick Collison, the Thunder forward. "It's easier for those of us who are less-talented scorers to play with confidence."

Stars evolve through stops and starts, but Durant is taking that final step as one of the game's great closers.

He had a chance to help the Thunder take control of the series in Game 5 last night.

"I'm learning every single day," he said. "I'm not where I want to be, but I'm going to keep growing in those situations. I think those tough times are going to help me get better."

Durant is still only 23, but his evolution as a player may be nearing completion.

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