We’re a week removed from one of the best NBA games this season. In many respects it was an instant classic. Golden State’s 121-118 overtime victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder had everything you’d want in an NBA game. There was star power, including the last two MVPs (Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry) and 5 2016 All-Stars. There was tremendous execution (239 dynamic points). There were three point shooting records (Curry tied the single game record with 12 makes and broke his own season record). Above all, there was drama as Curry hit an absurd, contested 32 footer to win the game at the horn.
What we didn’t see though, was winning, crunch time basketball from one of the five best players in the world and apparently no one else noticed. The reality is that Durant failed massively in the last few seconds of regulation. While the Thunder were up two with a few seconds left, Durant caught the ball and instead of waiting to be fouled or trying to escape the trap, he instead threw an awful, long pass that was intercepted by the Warriors. (Klay Thompson and Draymond Green both played the defensive possession extremely well.)
Then, after this turnover and with less than a second left, Durant fouled Andre Iguodala while he was shooting a desperate jumper. @Andre then hit the game tying free throws to send the game into overtime. Now, going to OT does not mean Durant lost the game in this sequence but had he made the right play either time, his Thunder would have won the game.
This is why perception matters: Everyone thinks of Durant as a clutch player. Since his rookie year, he’s been a consistent big shot taker and maker, including some spectacular game winners. The perception is that he’s a fantastic player when it matters most. So the talking heads on TV basically ignored those last few seconds. Virtually all the follow up stories about this game were only about how awesome Steph Curry is, not about why he had extra opportunities to win this game, thanks to Durant.
But just imagine if it had been LeBron James or Dwight Howard who’d failed as spectacularly as Durant did. The narrative afterward would have been entirely different. It’s about perception.