Three-time scoring champion and 2007 NCAA National Player of the Year as a freshmen with the Longhorns basketball team, Kevin Durant has the young Oklahoma City Thunder franchise on the brink of reaching the NBA Finals.
Durant scored 22 of his 27 points in the second half of the Thunder’s 108-103 victory over the San Antonio Spurs in Monday night’s Game 5. Durant’s dominating performance in the second half has the Thunder within a win of clinching the Western Conference Championship after trailing the series 0-2.
“We never thought we’re supposed to wait our turn,” Durant said. “Coach always emphasizes that with every opportunity that you step on the floor. It’s a great opportunity to get better...to get to our dream.”
After the Thunder fell short in last season’s conference finals to the eventual NBA Champions, the Dallas Mavericks, Durant’s dream is now closer than ever. The young and athletic Thunder have a chance to take the next step and clinch a spot in the finals with a win at home Wednesday night against the Spurs.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has referred to Durant as “arguably the best player on the planet.” The numbers back up Popovich’s statement. At only 23 years old, Durant’s 27.6 career playoff scoring average is the highest ever among players who have played in at least 20 playoff games prior to turning 24 years of age.
The former Longhorn and fellow rising stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook have the Thunder looking like a threat for years to come. The Thunder is in the midst of its third consecutive playoff run, having won four of its seven playoff series thus far.
Less than a week ago, the Spurs were in control of the series and the Thunder was still looking like just the team of the future. Thanks to Durant’s superstar performance, the future is only a win away.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks believes his team is ready to take the next step.
“We feel like we’re an elite basketball team, and we’ve never looked at our age. I don’t give them the excuse and say ‘it’s OK, you’re only 20...Three years from now you’ll be 23.’ We’ve never done that,” Brooks said.
Oklahoma City manager Sam Presti has built an unmatched young nucleus by making excellent draft decisions since they took Durant with the second pick in the first round of the 2007 NBA draft. “Three years from now, Kevin’s only 26,” Brooks said. “We feel like we have enough to win now, but with that being said, our window’s not going to close after this season.”