The "Mr. Unreliable" flap was the first time a scant word of negativity has really found its way to Durant. For the most part, he has played his first seven seasons unscathed. The brunt of the judgment has always fallen on Durant's brash teammate, or his coach for being incapable of putting him in a system that produces uncontested layups or something.
Really, the only critical trickles directed at Durant are that he needs to be more assertive alongside Russell Westbrook or that he needs to find more of a consistent commitment to the defensive end. For the most part, though, we're all just too much in awe of his ability to get wrapped up in the negativity. There a certain confident resolve that he's destined to break through eventually. It's really how we all should've been treating LeBron James all along.
But as an MVP, eventually all that equity is going to start to run out. Durant might not ever reach LeBron levels of scrutiny, but the longer a transformational player goes without winning the ultimate prize, the more he's watched. The trajectory of Durant's career has him trending directly at "league legend," although he doesn't want to become one of those "but" guys. Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Elgin Baylor, John Stockton -- some of the greatest players ever, but?
Even with his ascent, though, Durant doesn't feel any different. He plays for his family, he plays for his teammates, he plays for his organization, he plays for his city. He plays for a purebred obsession for the game. He doesn't play to validate awards or etch his name alongside the greats. At least not yet.
"Pressure comes from everybody else from the outside, from media, from friends, family, but I play this game because I love it, and I play to win," he said. "If I give it my all, it may not be enough for everybody else, but I know what I gave, so I can live with it."
This Game 6 is different from the one Durant and the Thunder responded so convincingly to in Memphis. Extending the series this time around doesn't give the Thunder a decisive Game 7 in their building but sends them back to the place they've lost three games by a combined 80 points. The Thunder are playing for that next game, but it could be just delaying the inevitable. Mentally, that can be overwhelming. It can be exhausting.
But the thing with the special ones like Durant, those kind of moments are when they separate themselves. It's when they cement their status. LeBron faced a do-or-die moment in Boston in 2012 and found maybe the greatest performance of his career. It's not that Durant has to replicate that. He just has to play. He just has to give what he has, then accept the results. A concept he seems to understand pretty well already.