Yesterday, I posted a video of Phil Jackson editorializing on the superstar treatment he says Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant receives from officials.
"As far as calls he gets on the floor, I think a lot of referees are treating him like a superstar," Jackson said (among other things). "He gets to the line easily and often."
Obviously there's a little gamesmanship here. Jackson is at once (A) trying to work the referees and create an atmosphere attaching greater scrutiny to calls involving Durant, and (B) sending a warning to his own team to understand Durant is a free throw generating machine. Don't get wrapped up in whistles, play through them.
I left one out. As today's news shows, I need to add a "C."
Wednesday, Durant wrapped up his first scoring title as the Thunder earned their 50th win of the season, defeating Memphis 114-105. But before the game he spent a lot of time answering questions about Jackson's comments, growing increasingly fired up as the conversation went along.
Writes Darnell Mayberry of the Daily Oklahoman:
"..."I respect Phil Jackson,” Durant started. "It really doesn’t matter, to be honest.” But the longer Durant spoke, the more his true emotions surfaced. "Ever since KG said something, everybody’s been questioning how I get to the line,” Durant said, referring to Boston forward Kevin Garnett, who claimed after losing to the Thunder he thought he was playing, "Michael (expletive) Jordan.” "If you watch our games, you wouldn’t question it. The NBA should put us on national TV more, I guess.”
When asked whether Jackson’s comment fired him up more, Durant, "Yeah, it does.” "Because it’s taking away from what I do,” Durant said. "That’s a part of my game, getting to the free-throw line and being aggressive. If you say that I get superstar calls or I get babied by the refs, that’s just taking away from how I play. That’s disrespectful to me. I don’t disrespect nobody in this league. I respect every coach, every player, everybody. I never say anything bad about anybody else or question why they do this or do that. So for them to say that about me, I don’t even want to use no foul language.”
Durant said he doesn’t think Jackson’s comments will have any influence on how the officials call the series. "If the refs pay attention to that and change how they call things because of that, that’s terrible,” Durant said. "That’s terrible to the game of basketball and to us. If that happens, then (coach) Scotty (Brooks) could talk, too. Or any other coach could talk, too, just so the refs could switch everything up. But I doubt they do that. "They’re smarter than that, and they have more skills than that as refs. So I don’t really worry about it too much..."
How Durant responds against the Lakers is obviously an open question (assuming you're not in the crowd believing all things NBA-playoff related are preordained), but Jackson absolutely knew we -- the royal media "we" -- would go straight to Durant and ask him for reaction to his comments. This is how we roll. Durant will be asked again as more national media get around the Thunder, and more still as the L.A. media gets access to him this weekend, too.
His free throw count has officially been placed on the Big List of Series Storylines.
In the end, none of this could make a lick of difference, nor is it going to be the biggest factor in determining which team advances. But to the extent it helps his team's cause, even if only around the margins, this sort of gamesmanship is well worth PJ's trouble. There's a real chance Durant starts to view calls/non-calls in a different way. Did I not get that whistle because Jackson complained? Are refs being influenced? He's being forced to think about it, at least off the court. I'm fairly sure PJ hopes he brings the luggage with him once the games start, adding another psychological layer to Durant's first playoff experience.
Given OKC's near total lack of postseason experience, it wouldn't surprise me to see more of this sort of thing from Phil.
Stir the waters, and see how the Thunder react.