Thunder forward Kevin Durant’s star is starting to dim under the bright lights of the big stage.
Despite his offensive output, averaging a series-high 31 points per game, Durant has been unable to stay out of foul trouble for all three games of the Finals.
His lack of discipline on the floor has hurt Oklahoma City’s opportunities of capturing a victory over the past two games.
Miami has taken advantage of the mistakes, as LeBron James has drawn half of Durant’s 12 fouls in the Finals to total eight more minutes of playing time than the three-time scoring champion.
Durant missed the final 5:41 of the third quarter in Game 3, after missing significant time during the same period in Thursday’s contest in Oklahoma City.
Even though Durant should be getting some superstar treatment from the officials, he has to adjust to the way the referees are calling the game.
With as evenly matched as the Heat and Thunder are, with Oklahoma City scoring 286 points and Miami with 285 in the series, any advantage can be the difference between a win and a loss.
That difference was on display in the third quarter with the Thunder leading by 10 and on the verge of blowing the game wide open. Durant, however, picked up his fourth foul and Thunder coach Scott Brooks had to sit his superstar on the bench.
Brooks made a puzzling decision shortly after benching Durant, pulling Westbrook from the game as well.
The Heat proceeded to end the third quarter on a 15-3 run to take a two-point lead into the fourth quarter.
Not only did this run give the Heat the lead, it ignited the AmericanAirlines Arena crowd and took away all the momentum the Thunder had built.
Instead of making setting the tone heading into the fourth quarter, Oklahoma City had to fight its way back into the contest.
Another comeback that fell just short – again.
With three consecutive road games, Oklahoma City needed to capitalize on the opportunity to get a win in Game 3. Now, the pressure is squarely on the young shoulders of the Thunder stars in Durant, Westbrook and James Harden.
Oklahoma City needs to take at least one game in Miami and now faces a must-win scenario tonight.
Durant has been the team leader all year long and has to step up in the biggest game of the season.
The Thunder can’t afford to go down 3-1 in the series because no team has ever come back from that deficit in the NBA Finals. Even though a 3-2 deficit isn’t the ideal situation for Oklahoma City, getting back to their home court is the only motivation that should be pushing this team.
The Thunder, however, need Durant to play smart on the floor and stay out of foul trouble. His prowess in the fourth quarter makes Oklahoma City a dangerous team no matter what the score, but he has to have all his weapons available.
And that isn’t possible if he’s playing tentative due to foul trouble.
It’s a lesson that Durant needs to learn quickly or he might be feeling the sting next year of an NBA Finals defeat that has haunted James this season.