OKLAHOMA CITY —
Durant took on more of the scoring load while point guard Russell Westbrook was out after knee surgery, and coach Scott Brooks asked Durant to handle the ball more. He flourished in the role and his court vision improved. While Westbrook was out, Durant averaged 35 points and 6.3 assists while shooting 53 percent from the field as the Thunder went 19-7.
“I think they’ve grown as a result of that,” Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said. “As Westbrook comes back, he (Durant) can step back, or they know that he can step up and do more, and Westbrook can play off the ball some now. He just does whatever it takes for his team to have a chance. The way this team has grown together — it’s fun to watch.”
Durant has long been known as one of the league’s nice guys. He donated $1 million to the Red Cross after tornadoes in Oklahoma last year, and he recently lent his voice to Strong and Kind, an organization that creates programming to teach youths that kindness is a strength, not a weakness. Durant’s calm demeanor matches those actions, but beneath the laid-back surface is an intense man.
“He has a real quiet confidence about him and a quiet competitiveness about him, but he is as competitive as I’ve ever been around anybody,” Brooks said. “I get to see him every day in practice. I get to see him every drill that we put the group through, and he wants to win everything.”
Sometimes, that fire burns out of control. As of Thursday night, Durant had drawn 14 technical fouls — a career high, and two short of a suspension. He had just 12 the first five years of his career, then 12 last season. Most of them have been a result of conversations with officials.