MANCHESTER, England (AP) — A superstar in the United States, Kevin Durant has enjoyed being just a "regular person" during his time in Britain this week.
On Tuesday, Durant was back to being the center of attention. The Oklahoma City Thunder was behind 51-48 at halftime against Philadelphia 76ers in an NBA pre-season match in Manchester when Durant came alive, scoring 14 points in the third quarter to turn the game on its head and put his team 83-74 up.
Durant stayed on the bench for the final quarter, giving him 21 points for the match, and although the Sixers pulled level at 85-85 with 8.43 minutes left, guard Reggie Jackson (29 points) led the Thunder home to a 103-99 victory.
"I like what he has been doing in pre-season," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of a player who has led the NBA in scoring in three separate seasons. "He has come back even better." Durant scored a game-high 24 points in the Thunder's 95-82 victory over Fenerbahce Ulker of Turkey on Saturday but started slowly three days later, making just 3 from 10 from the field before halftime.
If the Sixers thought he was off color at that stage, they were to be mistaken. It wasn't just Durant's third-quarter scoring, it was also his quick passing, his leadership. Barking orders from the bench during the fourth quarter, he could easily have been the Oklahoma City coach.
"We demand a level of play and he is as coachable as any player I have seen in this league," Brooks said. "He is going to continue to get better. He has the talent, the skill, the body, the touch, the gifted game. But he also has an unmatched work ethic."
Manchester can hardly be called the hotbed of basketball in Britain — there were plenty of empty seats in the 21,000-capacity Phones 4u Arena — but a sign of the sport's growing appeal in the country is the staging of a regular-season NBA game between the Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks in London in January.
And a slew of Premier League footballers, including Manchester United players Rio Ferdinand and David de Gea, were courtside to see the Thunder and the Sixers step up their preparations for the new NBA season.
After missing out on the playoffs last season, the Sixers are in a rebuilding phase under new coach Brett Brown and have lost All-Star guard Jrue Holiday, who was traded to New Orleans on draft night.
However, they held their own against one of the NBA's standout team for three quarters. It was Durant's brilliance in the third quarter, which the Thunder won 35-23, that was the difference, along with 20 turnovers.
"I am really proud of our guys," said Brown, who had 20 points from Tony Wroten. "I see carry-over (from training)," he added. "That's the Holy Grail." Like the Thunder, Philadelphia has been on a week-long tour of Europe as the NBA looks to promote the sport around the world, and beat Bilbao Basket 106-104 in Spain on Sunday.
The NBA season starts in three weeks' time, but the league hasn't seen the back of Britain. "It's a great atmosphere here, the fans are unbelievable," said Durant, who won gold with the U.S. team at last year's London Olympics. "I think they deserve basketball, especially regular-season basketball. I'm sure we'll see that in the future."