Miami Heat star LeBron James listens to a question during Wednesday’s NBA Finals news conference in advance of Game 2 tonight against Oklahoma City.
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WHAT: NBA Finals, Game 2.
WHEN: 9 p.m. today.
WHERE: Oklahoma City.
LINE: Thunder by 5 1/2 points.
SERIES: Thunder lead, 1-0.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Not many know much about the guy who dominated Game 1 of the NBA Finals other than he’s pretty good.
Kevin Durant is a mystery even to some of the players trying to beat him.
“It’s one of those things where I respect his game, but I don’t know him, either. I know probably just as much as you guys know,” Miami’s Dwyane Wade said Wednesday.
That’s just the way Durant likes it.
He doesn’t seek the spotlight and it seldom comes to Oklahoma looking for him. He rarely makes much news and wouldn’t read it anyway, preferring the quiet life LeBron James gave up any hope of when he went to Miami and promised all those championships at that big welcoming party two summers ago.
Durant instead committed to remaining in Oklahoma City that same month, bypassing a big announcement by revealing on Twitter he had agreed to a contract extension.
He may not be able to hide much longer.
A few more performances like he had in the opener — when he scored 17 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter of the Thunder’s 105-94 victory — and Durant could take his place as the league’s biggest star.
Yet he pays no more attention to praise than he does criticism — unless it comes from within his organization.
“I have faith in all those things that I do day in and day out: Coming in, working hard, believing in myself and my teammates, and believing in the system. Whatever happens after that, it happens, as long as I know that I come in and give it my all every single day,” Durant said. “I can’t worry about what other people say or expectations they put on me. It’s just all about how I view myself and how my teammates view me, and we’ll go from there.”
Game 2 is Thursday night, another chance for Durant to build on what’s already one of the league’s strongest resumes in recent years: Three-time scoring champion. MVP of the All-Star game. MVP of the world basketball championship.
On the floor, his name belongs with James, Wade, Kobe Bryant, or any of the NBA’s brightest stars. Away from the court, Durant doesn’t seem interested in anything that would force his name into the discussion, with Wade comparing him to San Antonio’s Tim Duncan.
“And sometimes it’s where you’re at. If he was in Los Angeles, Chicago, somewhere, it would be a little different,” Wade said. “Being in Oklahoma kind of dims his light a little bit. Not him on the basketball court, but him off the court. There’s not a lot of exciting things going on out here.”
Well, except for Durant’s performances.
His scoring average and shooting percentage have gone up every round, and he matched his high scoring game of this postseason on Tuesday. He did hear some criticism for being too passive and taking only four shots over the middle two quarters, but he brushes that off as easily as he does defenders.
“I don’t want to sound like a jerk or anything, but I really don’t care what people say outside the locker room, outside of this organization, what I need to do or what I didn’t do. I really don’t care,” Durant said. “You know, I’m a guy that lets the game come to me but is also aggressive at the same time. I know when to take shots, when to make the right play.
“People can say this and that. I learn to just tune it out and just play my game.”
James and Wade are as much celebrities as athletes, answering questions about fashion Wednesday while every inquiry to Durant was about basketball. And with more attention on the Miami duo, so is the “noise” that coach Erik Spoelstra says the team is always trying to ignore.
Last year it was focused on James after his repeated fourth-quarter failures in the Heat’s loss to Dallas. He was outplayed in the final period by Durant on Wednesday but otherwise had a strong game, his 30 points his most ever in the finals.
Now the blame seems to be shifted toward Wade, who hasn’t been consistent this postseason while perhaps still dealing with knee pain. He shot just 7 for 19 in Game 1, with Spoelstra denying there was anything physically wrong.
James may remind Wade he needs more from his partner Thursday.
“A lot of times I try to let him figure it out on his own, but sometimes I go to him and tell him I need one of those games from him, I need one of those performances from him, because he still has it,” James said. “He knows he still has it, too, but every player needs a little kick every now and then, no matter how time tested they are.”
Wade was briefly THE guy in the NBA six years ago, leading the Heat to an NBA title at 24 and looking as if he could have plenty of years on top.
Things are set up for Durant, just 23, to inherit that role now. He can put himself on a list along with Michael Jordan, Bryant and Willis Reed, who were MVPs of the All-Star game and finals in the same year, then will chase Olympic gold with the U.S. team this summer.
Game 1 had barely ended when already Durant was talking about what he could do better in Game 2, and that’s as far as he’ll look for now.
“I’m just taking it a day at a time,” he said. “It’s just a blessing to be here, not just in the finals but being in the NBA, having this opportunity to do something I love to do, and just take it slow, take it a day at a time, keep working every single day, and at the end we’ll see where I’m at. But I can’t think too far down the line. Just got to be ready for the next day and prepare myself right for whatever happens.”
NBA FINALS NOTEBOOK: Harden OK with limited minutes in Game 1
OKLAHOMA CITY — There wasn’t much to fear about the beard in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
NBA sixth man of the year James Harden scored only five points — 12½ below his playoff average — in his finals debut but was hardly lamenting it Wednesday with his Oklahoma City Thunder up 1-0 in the series against the Miami Heat.
Harden had scored in double digits in all 15 playoff games this season before making it only halfway there to start the finals. He played only 22 minutes, his least of the playoffs, largely because he was pulled after picking up his fourth foul late in the third quarter and did not return. Defensive stopper Thabo Sefolosha replaced him and did a good enough job of slowing down LeBron James that he never came out.
“I think I did a pretty good job … obviously I didn’t score the ball well but just defensively and doing other things to help the team win,” Harden said Wednesday. “Ws are all that matter now. It’s not about individual performances.”
Perhaps most notably, Harden didn’t attempt a single free throw in Game 1. The left-handed slasher shot the 10th-most foul shots in the league during the regular season and said he wants to get back to attacking the rim in Game 2 on Thursday night.
“Just be more aggressive, watch film, learn what they did on the defensive end and just attack more. Be more aggressive not just for myself, but collapsing the defense in and making plays for my teammates is something that I’m very good at,” Harden said.
“I’ve just got to be aggressive and do whatever it takes and drive the lanes, find my shooters and find by bigs for easy dunks.”
HE GOES GLASSES: It’s the fashion craze that’s all the rage in the NBA playoffs: glasses, sometimes with lenses, sometimes without.
The stars of both the Thunder and the Heat have taken to wearing glasses to their postgame news conferences — even if not all of them need the eyewear.
“Trends, they come and go, and people get on board with them or they don’t. With the nerd glasses that comes in the NBA, it’s just something fun to do right now,” Dwyane Wade said. “I’m sure next season it’ll be out the window.”
Russell Westbrook’s attire has been all over the place during the postseason. His latest outfit was a white shirt with drawings of golfers all over it for after Game 1.
And his glasses frames typically don’t have lenses because he doesn’t need them. But he said he’s got a variety of different colors to choose from.
“I’ve been wearing glasses since I’ve been in the league,” he tried to claim Wednesday “I think everybody else just started wearing them now.”
That’s obviously not the case. LeBron James said he thinks he started going with glasses two years ago, but he doesn’t know who sparked the craze or when.
“There’s no stories behind it. You know, it’s a look, it’s a fashion thing,” James said. “But (Westbrook) absolutely didn’t start it.”
FACE GUARDING: Miami’s Shane Battier was jazzed to find out that three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant admitted being bothered by Battier’s method of sticking his hand in a shooter’s face to keep him from seeing the rim.
“Yes! Someone finally admitted it,” Battier said. “For years, Kobe (Bryant) never admitted it. Yes!”
Battier said he started the hands-to-the-face technique a few years ago after teammates got mad at him when he was testing it out in practice. He says coach Erik Spoelstra isn’t all that fond of it but his rationale is that “I can’t jump to block shots anymore, so that’s my secret weapon.”
“Anything to mess with this sort of space right here affects you,” Battier said, gesturing with his hands moving around his head.
“People in general don’t like being touched in their face, they don’t like hands in the face. Shooters don’t like being touched on the wrist. They just don’t like it. I know I don’t like it. So, if I don’t like it, I know other guys don’t like it, so why don’t I do it?”
Durant said Battier is the only defender he remembers trying to block his vision on his release.
“I absolutely hate it,” Durant said. “But I’ve gotten used to it over the years playing Shane. … You’ve just got to be disciplined on your shot, and I think shooting so many shots, you know once you kind of let loose, you know where it’s going to go.”
BOSH ON THE BENCH: The Heat remain noncommittal on whether All-Star forward Chris Bosh will return to the starting lineup.
Spoelstra said it’s more important that he be put in positions to be aggressive than whether he’s on the court when the game starts. And Bosh is simply amused by all the interest his status is getting.
“I didn’t know it was such a big deal, the starting thing. I just thought people were happy to see me out there,” Bosh joked.
Bosh had started every game he played in through the regular season and the playoffs until suffering an abdominal injury during the Eastern Conference semifinals. He has come off the bench in his four games since that nine-game absence.
“I’m a glass is half-full kind of guy,” Bosh said. “I always look at whatever position I’m, I’m like, ‘This is the best position to be in right now.’ It doesn’t matter to me.”
RECORD RATINGS: The opener of the series was the most-viewed NBA Finals Game 1 ever on ABC.
The game drew a 9.9 household rating and just under 16.2 million viewers, according to Nielsen. The best previous marks were for the opener of the 2004 finals between Detroit and the Los Angeles Lakers (9.8 rating, 15.35 million viewers).
The ratings were a 10 percent improvement over last year’s Game 1 between Miami and Dallas (9.0) and a 7 percent increase in viewers (15.2 million).
The rating is the percentage of all homes with TVs.
TIP-INS: Country singer Sara Evans will perform the national anthem before Game 2. Her songs include “Born to Fly” and “Perfect.”… Even NBA stars don’t know everything about each other. Wade said he was watching the Spurs on TV and a girl and a boy ran up to Tim Duncan before the game. “I didn’t know he had kids. I’m assuming they’re his,” Wade said. “They kind of look like him.” Duncan does indeed have two children, according to San Antonio’s media guide. … Bosh faced questioning after downplaying Oklahoma City’s loud crowd following Game 1 but he didn’t back away from his assessment. “It is loud,” he said. “I guess I made it worse in my head. I guess it was going to be a much tougher environment in my head.”