MIAMI — When the Oklahoma City Thunder pulled off its greatest road victory in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals in San Antonio, an emotional Kevin Durant used the postgame interview to announce that he had dedicated the game to his uncle, Tyrone Pratt, who was recently hospitalized with an undisclosed illness. His uncle’s condition has deteriorated in the past two weeks, and Durant’s father, Wayne Pratt, recently acknowledged that his brother might not have much time left.
As he prepares to play the biggest road game of his career in Miami on Tuesday in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Durant admitted that he has had to deal with more stresses once he is done dueling with Miami Heat star forward LeBron James.
“My heart is heavy, always,” Durant said before the Thunder practiced and attempted to correct some of the errors from a 91-85 loss in Game 3 that gave the Heat a 2-1 series lead. “I’ve always been a guy that’s been focused on the task at hand. Once I step on the floor, all that stuff is out my head and once I step off, that’s when I kind of think about it again.”
Durant will again try to put aside his off-court concerns so that he can help the Thunder claim a victory and draw even, knowing that no team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the Finals.
But in order for Oklahoma City to bounce back from losing consecutive games for the second time this postseason, Durant will have to avoid the foul trouble that has plagued him the past two games.
“I just have to play smarter,” Durant said. “I’ve never really been a guy that complains about it or gets mad at a ref for making a call, so I’ve just got to play through it and be myself, and whatever happens, happens. I’m going to leave everything out there.”
He has committed five fouls in both losses and was forced to sit with his fourth foul during a momentum-swinging 5-minute, 41-second stretch in the third period when he bit on a Dwyane Wade pump fake, jumped and grazed him on the way down.
The Thunder built the lead to 10 points while Durant sat but trailed by two when he and Russell Westbrook returned at the start of the fourth quarter. After James Harden made a driving layup to give Oklahoma City a 77-76 lead, however, it foundered and Durant never regained his offensive rhythm.
“I didn’t want to come out of the game, but I knew that it was going to be tough for Coach to play [me] with four fouls,” said Durant, who scored 21 points before committing his fourth foul. “But that’s a part of playing basketball, man. It’s fight through adversity and fight through tough times, and I think we did that and gave ourselves a chance to win. Unfortunately we didn’t.”
Durant has had his fourth-quarter moments throughout the postseason and this series in particular, as he led the Thunder to a 105-94 victory in Game 1 with a 17-point fourth-quarter outburst. He had 16 points in the fourth quarter of Game 2, but missed a baseline jumper over James with less than 10 seconds remaining that could’ve tied the game. In Game 3, James guarded Durant for most of the fourth quarter, Durant finished with just four points, shot just 2 of 6 – including two misses that hit the opposite side of the backboard – and committed two turnovers.
When asked what James did to slow him down in the fourth quarter, Durant replied, curtly, “Nothing.”
“I move on,” Durant said. “I missed a three that went in and out, I missed a few shots going to the rim. But I’m going to shoot until my arm falls off in the fourth. That’s what I do. I don’t care if I miss it or if I make it. I believe in myself. I really don’t care what people say on the outside or how many points I post in the fourth or what big players have done in the past. All I do is worry about myself. I’m going to keep doing what I do. I’ve got 100 percent confidence in myself that I can do it, and when the fourth quarter comes around next time, I’m going to be as aggressive as I can.”
Durant’s mother, Wanda Pratt, and brother, Tony, have been regulars at Thunder games and he embraced both after Oklahoma City clinched a trip to the Finals with a win over the Spurs.
Wayne Pratt, a U.S. Capitol police officer who was separated from the family for most of Durant’s childhood, has also been attending Finals games in Oklahoma City and Miami. He has tried to shield Durant from all of the details surrounding his uncle to not overburden his son as he attempts to win his first NBA title. But Durant can tell that his father is stressed as he closes in on an important career achievement.
Durant leans on his small circle for support and he now has more motivation to deliver.
“It’s a lot of people that passed before I even made it to the league,” said Durant, who wears No. 35 to honor his late AAU Coach, Charles Craig, who was murdered at age 35 in 2005. “My uncle is in the hospital now, so I’m playing for a lot of people. My family takes a lot of pressure off of me. My friends, my teammates. Through tough times, that’s who I rely on. It’s all about playing the game and that’s what I’m going to continue to do. My dad and his brother, they were so close. I can see it on my dad’s face that he’s going through it. So this would be the perfect present. A perfect present. Hopefully, we can get it done.”