Kevin Durant stepped onto the court at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn Tuesday around 7 p.m., joining his teammates from the Oklahoma City Thunder in the customary pregame ritual of the two-line layup drill. His first shot was not a shot, but a crisp dunk. Curling back to midcourt, Durant noticed Deron Williams of the Nets, one of his colleagues on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, and gave him a quick hug. He jumped back in line, where he swiveled for a nifty reverse layup. Then another dunk. Durant began taking shots: manageable 14-footers from the corners, short-range jumpers in which his heels barely left the floor. He practiced a tall, arcing shot that plunged toward the rim like coin falling off a table. Basketball players at every level love to waste warm-up time heaving up long bombs, but Durant did not. In 15 minutes or so of watching him, I didn't see him attempt a single three-pointer.
When the game began, Durant's first basket was a three-pointer. It came less than a minute into the contest, and it began like a lot of Durant's 10,000-plus career points—Durant springing open his lithe 6-foot-9 frame and letting fly as the Nets tried to react, the ball lifting gracefully and falling through the net. Up, away, unstoppable. This is where Kevin Durant lives most of the time, in his sixth season, at 24 years of age. The game flows from him rather than to him, and when he gets the ball, there's an audible, anticipatory hush, even on the road.
Later in the half, Durant hit a three-pointer to give Oklahoma City a 13-point lead, and on the next sequence, took a short pass from his brilliant Thunder id, Russell Westbrook, and hammered a dunk, his knees raised like a squat. Soon after Durant attempted an even more spectacular dunk over Brooklyn's Andray Blatche, leaping skyward and jamming his torso toward Blatche's head. The ball crashed off the rim. For the next minute, the Barclays Center buzzed, not at what it had witnessed, but what it had almost. It was a fantastic miss.