Some say it was luck. Some say it was skill. Some say it was a combination of both. Either way, Kevin Durant‘s game-winning 3-pointer that bounced off of the back rim into the heavens and danced around the rim a few times before falling in was certainly awe-striking. It proved to be just enough for the Oklahoma City Thunder in their win over the Houston Rockets in Game 3.
The Thunder did exactly what they needed to do after receiving word that they would be without their All-Star point guard, Russell Westbrook, for the remainder of the season, and that was to win.
The game was not pretty for the Thunder. They squandered a 26-point lead in the second half and had to battle in the closing moments of the game. Still, the Thunder have taken a commanding 3-0 series lead over the Rockets. Even though the series has certainly been a struggle for the Thunder, the results are exactly what the they intended.
Durant filled in the void Westbrook left in a tremendous 41-point effort in Game 3. For the fifth time in his career, the All-Star put up 30 shot attempts, making 13.
Durant knew going into the game that more weight would be put on his shoulders with the absence of Westbrook.
“I got faith in myself and and my team that I can go out there and lead us,” Durant said Friday at practice. “In fact, I know I can. I know I can lead us.”
Durant’s comments were perhaps a bit of foreshadowing going into Game 3, as he did exactly what he said by leading the Thunder to victory. It was only fitting that Durant’s lucky shot (or skilled shot, or whatever you want to call it) went in and provided the difference in the game.
Royce Young on DailyThunder.com noted Durant’s special performance in Game 3, calling his game-winning basket “Touched by the hand of God”. That might be the best way to describe Durant’s 3-point heave. Perhaps Westbrook was doing a little bit of praying during the game that made the basketball fall in the hoop.
The question is, can Durant continue to lead this Westbrook-less team to the NBA Finals?
I certainly would not count the Thunder out of the mix. Westbrook’s injury has certainly opened the door to a few teams in the Western Conference, but let’s not forget the Thunder still have one of the best players in the NBA in Durant, as well as one of the best defenders in the league in Serge Ibaka.
Westbrook has left a huge, Grand Canyon-sized hole in the Thunder’s line-up. Scoring will now have to be made up in his absence by players such as Kevin Martin, Reggie Jackson, Thabo Sefolosha, Ibaka and Durant.
It will certainly be interesting to see Durant take over this team. There is no more deferring the ball to Westbrook. There is no more taking a backseat in shot-attempts. There is no more being the second option on the team.
LeBron James was in a similar situation a year ago in the playoffs when he was forced to take over the leadership role when Dwyane Wade suffered his ankle injury. Durant now has the opportunity to have the brightest shining moment in his NBA career.
The Thunder are now in an all-too familiar position as the underdog. We’ve seen this team prove people wrong in the past. Do not sleep on the Oklahoma City Thunder.