Monday, June 18, 2012

Durant’s Foul Trouble Proves Costly to Thunder

N.B.A. Finals

Kevin Durant picked up his fourth foul with 5 minutes 41 seconds remaining in the third quarter and headed to the bench, where he remained until the start of the fourth quarter.

MIAMI — If Oklahoma City is going to overcome a two-games-to-one deficit against the Miami Heat in the N.B.A. finals, the Thunder are going to need the leading scorer Kevin Durant on his game — and on the court.
For the second straight game, Durant was saddled with foul trouble that cut into his minutes Sunday night. But in contrast to Game 2, Durant was not able to recover from his absence and deliver during the fourth quarter, and the Thunder lost Game 3 to the Heat, 91-85.

Durant, averaging 34 points in the series entering Game 3, was held to 25 points, including just 4 in fourth quarter as the Heat pulled ahead.

Durant picked up his fourth foul, on Heat guard Dwyane Wade, with 5 minutes 41 seconds remaining in the third quarter and headed to the bench, where he remained until the start of the fourth quarter.

At the time, Oklahoma City led by 60-54 and was on a 17-7 run.

LeBron James of the Heat said the Thunder lost their edge when Durant left the game. Durant had scored 8 points in the third quarter before picking up his fourth foul.

“I think he got it going in the third,” James said. “He made some big shots, gave them the lead. His fourth foul on D-Wade, we kind of got the momentum from there.”

Durant, a three-time N.B.A. scoring champion, was clearly frustrated with the fourth foul call and never regained his offensive rhythm as the Thunder managed just 18 points in the final 12 minutes.

In Game 1, Durant scored 17 fourth-quarter points to lead his team to victory. In Thursday’s 100-96 loss to the Heat, the Thunder nearly overcame an early 17-point deficit behind 16 fourth-quarter points by Durant, even though he picked up his fifth foul less than two minutes into the final quarter.

“I’m just trying to play aggressive on both ends, and unfortunately I’m getting some fouls called on me,” Durant said Sunday. “But I’ve got to play through it. Two games in a row, man, so I’ve just go to play smarter next game.”

Fouls, and foul shooting, played a key role in Sunday’s game.

The Heat finished 31 for 35 from the foul line, or 88.6 percent, while the Thunder shot 15 of 24 from the line (62.5 percent) after leading the league in free-throw shooting during the regular season.

“We have to do a better job defending them without fouling,” Oklahoma City Coach Scott Brooks said.

Brooks said Durant, 23, also had to get to the line more. On Sunday, he had just four free-throw attempts after averaging 7.6 in the regular season.

“Kevin is an aggressive player,” Brooks said. “I’d like to see him keep attacking, and hopefully he can get to the free-throw line himself.”

After he re-entered the game, Durant missed a pair of free throws with Miami ahead, 76-75. Moments later, Durant broke free of James’s suffocating defense, but Heat forward Chris Bosh blocked Durant’s hook shot.

The 6-foot-9 Durant finished just 2 of 6 from the field in the fourth quarter.

“We just tried to put bodies in front of him, make it as difficult as possible,” Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Really have to sweat and work for those looks.”

Despite his struggles, Durant still had his chances, even after he picked up his fifth foul with 3:47 to go as he attempted to draw a charge on James.

With about 1:10 left and the Heat leading, 88-85, Durant did not even hit the rim with a runner that caromed off the glass.

“We missed some shots,” he said. “But we put ourselves in position to win.”

Oklahoma City finds itself in the unenviable position of having to overcome a 2-1 deficit, something teams have done less than 15 percent of the time in the N.B.A. finals.

To have a chance, the Thunder are going to need Durant, who also had five turnovers, to bounce back and avoid foul trouble.

“It was frustrating,” he said. “You know, I hate sitting on the bench, especially with fouls. Just got to do better the next game.”


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