TORONTO – Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant broke out of a slump just in time.
Shaking off the critics (a hometown newspaper ran a headline Thursday that read “Mr. Unreliable” over a photo of Durant), the NBA’s scoring champion netted 36 points, leading the Thunder to a 104-84 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
He also had 10 rebounds and made 14 of 15 free throws.
The win forces a deciding Game 7 back in Oklahoma City on Saturday night.
“We needed to win this game,” Durant said. “That’s more motivation than anything, so our team responded. We’ve got to do an even better job in Game 7.”
Following The Oklahoman newspaper’s headline, Durant’s mother, Wanda Pratt, came to his defence on Twitter, tweeting “UNBELIEVABLE!! KEVIN is RELIABLE!!!”
On Friday, Pratt extended her forgiveness to the newspaper.
For his part, Durant said he had no problem with the headline. “I don’t really care,” he told reporters.
After Thursday’s win, when asked if the headline prompted him to pick up his play, Durant said that elimination was his motivation.
“We were down 3-2,” said Durant. “We were on the brink of elimination – that’s motivation for us all.”
The paper’s sports editor Mike Sherman later issued an online apology, saying that the headline – which was “overstated and unduly harsh” – was only meant to focus on Durant’s play against the Grizzlies in this series, not his entire body of work.
“The headline and presentation left the impression that we were commenting on Durant’s season, career or even character. We were not. We were referring only to the Memphis series,” wrote Sherman.
During Game 5 on Tuesday, Durant missed what could have been a game-winning shot and had racked up 20 turnovers heading into Game 6.
With files from The Associated Press