Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have again reached the playoffs precipice, a familiar spot that could go by another name:
Their happy place.
The Oklahoma City Thunder stars have persevered through every the-end-is-nigh scenario this spring when it would have been easy to go quietly into the night of the off-season.
Maybe that's why Westbrook playfully wore his practice jersey draped across his back like a superhero's cape Friday and Durant spoke about the power of positive thinking even though his team faces a 3-2 deficit against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals. Game 6 is Saturday at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
"We know that it's a situation where we lose, we go home, and nobody wants to do that, so we just leave it all out there and whatever happens we live with," Durant said. "Most of the time when we play extremely hard, play well, play together, we come out on top."
It's happened several times now, the Thunder emphatically answering every question about its resolve in these playoffs.
Face a pair of elimination games against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round? No biggie. Durant scored 36 points in Game 6 and Westbrook collected 27 points and 16 assists in Game 7.
Collapse against the Clippers in one conference semifinal game and trail by seven points with 49.2 seconds left in the next? Big whoop. Westbrook sparked a comeback for the ages in Game 5 before Durant polished off the Clippers with 39 points in the series clincher.
Lose the first two games of the conference finals? Been there, won that. Durant and Westbrook combined for 51 points in one blowout victory and 71 in the next against the Spurs.
Now the duo will try to unveil its most impressive reappearing act after combining for a relatively quiet 46 points in the Thunder's 117-89 loss to the Spurs in Game 5.
Durant said beating San Antonio requires more of a team effort than the first two rounds of the playoffs, when superlative performances by himself and Westbrook were enough to carry the Thunder.
"We do have to beat this team with everybody. We can't just focus on going out and scoring a lot of points," Durant said. "You've got to do it on both ends of the floor."
Offensively, at least, it has helped when Durant and Westbrook have been prolific scorers. The tandem has averaged a combined 61 points in the Thunder's victories in the current series, compared to 43 points in the team's defeats.
Both of those Oklahoma City triumphs came at Chesapeake Energy Arena, where the Thunder has won nine consecutive games against San Antonio. The Spurs have not scored 30 points in any quarter in these playoffs on Oklahoma City's home court, one of several trends the Thunder hopes holds up Saturday.
"It's just been a strange, interesting series," Thunder Coach Scott Brooks said. "Hopefully we can continue to make it that way."
Durant said he's left the kind of imprint he would like on the series even though the league's most valuable player has averaged 24.8 points per game, down from 31.4 in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Of course, there are many other ways to make an impact.
"Kevin doesn't have to show up [Saturday] and score 40 points, have MVP numbers," Thunder guard Derek Fisher said, "but we need everybody to show up with a desire to win that is stronger than our opponents'."
These have been the situations when the Thunder has done just that, repeatedly nudging a season on the brink into less perilous territory.
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