Durant didn't come up small just once or twice, but in four ... straight ... games.
This prompted "told you so" correspondence from a highly trusted, longtime NBA source of mine who had tried to warn me my view of Durant vs. Westbrook was upside down. My source is plugged in to several superstars. My source had told me Westbrook actually was Batman to Durant's Robin -- that the point guard built like (and who often played like) a strong safety was the one with the killer instinct, the assassin's clutch guts. Westbrook, my source had insisted, was mentally tougher than Durant and more feared by opponents late in games.
Still, on air I hung in with a Durant I often had called my favorite NBA player.
Westbrook showed up for training camp but -- what? -- immediately needed a second surgical procedure. He returned ahead of schedule for the season's third game, but, after recording a triple-double and finishing the game against the Knicks on Christmas Day, he needed a -- seriously? -- third procedure and missed the next 27 games.
And "my man" KD hit bottom at home on New Year's Eve, scoring a grand total of one point in the fourth quarter as Portland outscored the Thunder 27-16 and won by four. Two nights later, again at home, the Thunder allowed a late 14-0 run by 10-21 Brooklyn and lost by two. Durant: four in the fourth.
That's when -- on air -- I gave up and said, OK, Durant is no longer The Man in OKC. Westbrook is. The Thunder, I said, would ultimately go as far as Westbrook carries them when he returns.
I have no idea whether Durant was watching. I know he has twice taken public issue with me, for criticizing Westbrook and for criticizing him for getting too close to LeBron James in offseason workouts.
But Durant soon went on an MVP tear. The Thunder won 15 of 17 -- including one at Miami -- before Westbrook returned for the home rematch with the Heat.
What sometimes detonated Durant was getting a technical foul. Again down to Portland at home, this time by three with 3:45 left, Durant blew up after two straight questionable calls and got a tech. Then he blew up on the Blazers with 10 more points as OKC won by eight.
Were we seeing some new fire in Durant's belly?
Last season, Nike promoted Durant's signature shoe with a "KD is not nice" campaign. This suggested Durant had developed a complex after losing in the Finals to LeBron and being viewed as too buddy-buddy with his good buddy. "Not Nice" KD drew 12 techs last season, equaling his total for his first five seasons. He always seemed to be mad at somebody.
This season, Durant already has 13 techs. Yet he recently announced a new "Strong and Kind" Movement. Huh?
Durant told ESPN's Chris Broussard: "If you see me play, I'm barking at guys, I'm talking trash, I'm being physical. But at the same time, if you fall on the ground, I'll help you up, and after the game we'll talk as friends. So it's not a weakness to be a kind person. Everybody always says nice guys finish last, but I'm trying to change that."
Nice ... or Not Nice?
It appears Durant hasn't completely reconciled the Bible verse tattooed on his back with the mounting pressure to be more "like Mike" -- like the Michael Jordan known for being a cold-blooded killer on a basketball court.