OKLAHOMA CITY — Not many know much about the guy who dominated Game 1 of the NBA Finals other than he’s pretty good.
Kevin Durant is a mystery even to some of the players trying to beat him.
“It’s one of those things where I respect his game, but I don’t know him, either. I know probably just as much as you guys know,” Miami’s Dwyane Wade said Wednesday.
That’s just the way Durant likes it.
He doesn’t seek the spotlight and it seldom comes to Oklahoma looking for him.
He rarely makes much news and wouldn’t read it anyway, preferring the quiet life LeBron James gave up any hope of when he went to Miami and promised all those championships at that big welcoming party two summers ago.
Durant instead committed to remaining in Oklahoma City that same month, bypassing a big announcement by revealing on Twitter he had agreed to a contract extension.
He might not be able to hide much longer.
A few more performances like he had in the opener – when he scored 17 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter of the Thunder’s 105-94 victory – and Durant could take his place as the league’s biggest star.
Yet he pays no more attention to praise than he does criticism – unless it comes from within his organization.
“I have faith in all those things that I do day in and day out: Coming in, working hard, believing in myself and my teammates, and believing in the system. Whatever happens after that, it happens, as long as I know that I come in and give it my all every single day,” Durant said. “I can’t worry about what other people say or expectations they put on me. It’s just all about how I view myself and how my teammates view me, and we’ll go from there.”
Game 2 is tonight, another chance for Durant to build on what’s already one of the league’s strongest résumés in recent years: Three-time scoring champion. MVP of the All-Star game. MVP of the world basketball championship.
On the floor, his name belongs with James, Wade, Kobe Bryant, or any of the NBA’s brightest stars. Away from the court, Durant doesn’t seem interested in anything that would force his name into the discussion, with Wade comparing him to San Antonio’s Tim Duncan.
“And sometimes it’s where you’re at. If he was in Los Angeles, Chicago, somewhere, it would be a little different,” Wade said. “Being in Oklahoma kind of dims his light a little bit. Not him on the basketball court, but him off the court. There’s not a lot of exciting things going on out here.”
Well, except for Durant’s performances.
His scoring average and shooting percentage have gone up every round, and he matched his high scoring game of this postseason on Tuesday. He did hear some criticism for being too passive and taking only four shots over the middle two quarters, but he brushes that off as easily as he does defenders.
“I don’t want to sound like a jerk or anything, but I really don’t care what people say outside the locker room, outside of this organization, what I need to do or what I didn’t do. I really don’t care,” Durant said. “You know, I’m a guy that lets the game come to me but is also aggressive at the same time. I know when to take shots, when to make the right play.
“People can say this and that. I learn to just tune it out and just play my game.”
James and Wade are as much celebrities as athletes, answering questions about fashion Wednesday while every inquiry to Durant was about basketball. And with more attention on the Miami duo, so is the “noise” that coach Erik Spoelstra says the team is always trying to ignore.
Last year it was focused on James after his repeated fourth-quarter failures in the Heat’s loss to Dallas. He was outplayed in the final period by Durant on Wednesday but otherwise had a strong game, his 30 points his most ever in the finals.
Now the blame seems to be shifted toward Wade, who hasn’t been consistent this postseason while perhaps still dealing with knee pain. He shot just 7 for 19 in Game 1, with Spoelstra denying there was anything physically wrong.
James might remind Wade he needs more from his partner today.
“A lot of times I try to let him figure it out on his own, but sometimes I go to him and tell him I need one of those games from him, I need one of those performances from him, because he still has it,” James said. “He knows he still has it, too, but every player needs a little kick every now and then, no matter how time tested they are.”
Wade was briefly THE guy in the NBA six years ago, leading the Heat to an NBA title at 24 and looking as if he could have plenty of years on top.
Things are set up for Durant, just 23, to inherit that role now. He can put himself on a list along with Michael Jordan, Bryant and Willis Reed, who were MVPs of the All-Star game and finals in the same year, then will chase Olympic gold with the U.S. team this summer.
Game 1 had barely ended when already Durant was talking about what he could do better in Game 2, and that’s as far as he’ll look for now.
“I’m just taking it a day at a time,” he said. “It’s just a blessing to be here, not just in the finals but being in the NBA, having this opportunity to do something I love to do, and just take it slow, take it a day at a time, keep working every single day, and at the end we’ll see where I’m at. But I can’t think too far down the line. Just got to be ready for the next day and prepare myself right for whatever happens.”