SAN ANTONIO — Kevin Durant sat quietly in the visitors' locker room, his head down and his eyes closed, a pair of oversized headphones on his ears. It was less than two hours before the Oklahoma City Thunder would face the San Antonio Spurs in the pivotal Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, and the D.C. native was the very picture of the calm before the storm.
Durant and Oklahoma City would win a down-to-the-wire contest 108-103 for a 3-2 series lead. The Thunder silenced many of the critics who predicted that the more-experienced Spurs would roll over them, especially after San Antonio won the first two games decisively.
As it turns out, the Spurs had no expectations that this series would be easy, mainly because of Durant.
"He's always a threat," Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said of Durant. "It's so easy for him to score, that whenever you blink, he can get seven, nine points in a minute. We saw what happened in Game 4. We know what kind of talent he has. He's either the best player in the world or he's in the top three or five."
Durant, possibly the most humble superstar in the NBA, almost blushes at such praise, not that he hasn't become used to hearing it.
"He's a talented player, but he works extremely hard," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "He works like he has no talent. He works hard every day, just to try to make the team. That's his mindset, and that's how he's improved in the last five years."
During those five seasons, Durant has compiled a list of accolades that would be the envy of any 10-year veteran - three-time scoring champion, Rookie of the Year (2008), three-time All Star, three-time All-NBA first team, All-Star MVP (2012).
But what seems to fuel Durant even more than myriad individual honors is team success and knowing that Monday's win increased the Thunder's chances of winning the NBA championship this season. The Thunder will attempt to close out the series Wednesday night at home.
"We never thought that we were supposed to wait our turn," Durant said. "We always wanted to go and take every game. Coach [Brooks] always emphasizes that every opportunity when you step on that floor is a great opportunity to get better and grow and fight toward our dream. We just have to keep pressing. We have a long way to go, still."
Five wins is exactly how long they have to go in order to win the Larry O'Brien Trophy. But for Durant, the best part of that journey is the people he shares it with.
Durant's mother, Wanda Pratt, is a regular at Thunder games, and Durant is often seen giving her a kiss after games. Raised by Pratt and his grandmother, Barbara Davis, Durant's family is always uppermost in his mind - even while he's chasing his first NBA title. On Monday, it was his Uncle Tyrone who occupied his thoughts.
"My uncle is in the hospital, and I wanted to win this game for him," Durant said. "He's a little sick right now, and all I can say is I just wanted to win for him tonight. He's been watching me ever since I was a kid, and it was weighing heavy on me, so I just wanted to play my hardest for him."
Told that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich called him arguably the best player in the game, Durant, in typical fashion, shrugged off the compliment.
"Well, I appreciate that, but he's [Popovich] trying to fire up his team as well," Durant said. "Popovich has been around for a long time, and I really appreciate that, but I've just got to keep pressing and keep getting better to where I want to be."
Where he wants to be is holding the NBA championship trophy, and accomplishing that, while taking down a couple of elite franchises in the process, is still something Durant keeps in perspective.
"We don't want to get too high from this win," Durant said. "We have a tough road ahead. We wanted to come in here and get a win on their home floor, that's what it's going to take to advance. I just want to thank my teammates for playing an unbelievable game, because this one was big for me."
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