Kevin Durant is not only one of NBA's best players, but also one of it's best liked players. He's beloved by the Thunder faithful and coveted by just about everyone else (especially Wizards fans). But his poor performance in Saturday's Game 6 loss to the Warriors has drawn unusual recrimination.
KD seldom finds himself a target of pointed critism, either of his play or demeanor. And when he has gotten flak more recently, it's usually from the media not the public.
Maybe that's because he comes off as humble and unassuming without being afraid to stand up for himself. Or because his partner in superstardom, Russell Westbrook, is such a lightening rod. Generally speaking, there's just nothing all that offensive or controversial about Durant.
But the aftermath of Game 6 has been another story entirely. Fans from all over -- including Oklahoma, Texas and Washington D.C. -- have absolutely flogged the 2014 MVP. The blame campaign started as people filed out of Chesapeake Arena.
"It was Kevin's fault, just write that," a Thunder fan says as he walks to the exit.— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) May 29, 2016
Absolute choke job from Durant tonight. COMPLETE PLEB.— Ryan (@Ryan915) May 29, 2016
Leave OKC you bum
Durant I love you bro but you choke...— Colby Korf (@ckorf_2) May 29, 2016
Im a durant fan but u cant choke like that in pivotal moments naah bruh— Rashaun Will (@RashaunWill) May 29, 2016
Bro if LeBron what have lost this game, they would have ripped him a new one. But Durant loses and the get him ice cream and a loser trophy— Raul Gamazo (@RGamazo24) May 29, 2016
It sucks to say Kevin Durant choked. I would never like to see that from a former Longhorn— Tim Jurado (@timjurado95) May 29, 2016
Durant sucks! Can't handle the pressure. Mr. MVP 2014 socks. Already a has been.— Eddie L Edgerton (@Eddie02886543) May 29, 2016
Russell Westbrook need to get traded he ain't gone never win wit durant 😴— JP ♎️ (@Jay_4_parker) May 29, 2016
The Washington Wizards are no longer interested in picking up Durant after game 6's choke performance pic.twitter.com/eEnjG1bfpJ— Gento (@YMDgento) May 29, 2016
Obviously the reaction is extreme and vitriolic. But it reflects intense disappointment in Durant's play and the belief that he doesn't get his fair share criticism for the Thunder's underachievement.
The seven-time All-Star performed abysmally by his standards, scoring 29 points on 31 attempts (!). Things really devolved in the fourth quarter, where he shot 1 of 7 from the field, turned the ball over twice and looked helpless on defense.
KD was hard to watch (as was Westbrook), but that alone isn't enough to inspire such outrage. The circumstances of the loss added kerosene and struck the match.
Oklahoma City held a 94-87 advantage with 5:48 left in regulation, at which point Inpredictable.com calculated their win probability at 88 percent. The series could have and should have been a wrap.
Instead, Durant and Westbrook flailed around for four points, six turnovers and two fouls the rest of the way. It was among the more stunning collapses in recent playoff memory.
And this wasn't a case of constant lead changes. The Thunder had been ahead for nearly the whole night, but imploded in front of a sellout crowd at home (where they had already obliterated the Golden State twice).
Their second of back-to-back losses blew a 3-1 series lead and set up Game 7 in Oakland, where Stephen Curry and the defending champs won 39 of 41 regular season contests.
The consensus before tipoff had been that Game 6 was a must-win for OKC. The Warriors would become heavy favorites if they were allowed to carry two games of momentum into a death match at Oracle Arena.
But the Thunder didn't win, and if they lose the series, expect a different narrative than in the past.
"Durant doesn't have the right pieces around him" could turn into "Durant struggles under pressure" very quickly.