OKLAHOMA CITY-- With the rest of the Oklahoma City Thunder headed back to the bench during a time-out, Kevin Durant was still lingering near halfcourt and talking at the referees -- right up until Nick Collison stepped out and gestured to him.
Durant took one last look the other way, then relented and joined his teammates on the sideline.
While Durant puts up the big numbers that get him noticed as the NBA scoring champion, it's the little things like that quiet leadership in Oklahoma City's clinching Game 5 win against Denver that make Collison so valuable to the Thunder.
"He does things that don't show up on the stat sheet -- he takes charges, sets great screens, plays great defense. He just plays his hardest every time he's on that floor, and we really value him," Durant said Thursday. "He is a big part of our success and for us to keep getting better, Nick's going to have to be an important piece."
Collison's latest contribution? Slowing down Zach Randolph after his 34-point, 10-rebound performance led the Memphis Grizzlies to a road win in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against Oklahoma City.
With Collison spearheading the defense, Randolph had only 15 points on 2 for 13 shooting as the Thunder evened the series at a game apiece heading into Game 3 on Saturday in Memphis.
"I think with him, you have to make sure you're engaged every second you're out there because that's how he's successful," Collison said.
"He knocks guys off their spot and catches them deep, and then it's over with," he said. "He's as good as there is in the league in getting position and playing physical, so I just think you have to be ready at all times and not be surprised by that physicality."
It's that always-motoring characteristic that has made Collison a mainstay for the franchise. Only he and Durant are left from the team's days in Seattle, and Collison is the only one left from the SuperSonics' last trip to the playoffs in 2005, when he was a rookie.
The Thunder want him around. General manager Sam Presti considered him crucial enough that he gave Collison a front-loaded, four-year contract extension with most of his money coming this year -- allowing room for big contracts for Durant and potentially for fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook to take effect.
"Everybody loves Nick because he's just a winner. He wins games for us with his hustle, with his energy, with his spirit, with his ability just to be a good teammate at all times," coach Scott Brooks said.
After Game 1 against the Grizzlies, Brooks was lamenting why he hadn't played Collison more after he picked up two first-quarter fouls. The veteran power forward played 25 minutes in Game 2 -- 10 more than in the opener -- and had seven points and seven rebounds
"I just felt that Nick had an impact on the game that was well-needed," Brooks said. "He does so many things for us."
Until the Thunder picked up three players with championship experience at the trade deadline in mid-February, Collison was one of just two players on the team who had ever won a playoff series.
He was a rookie when Seattle made it to the second round in 2005, but then had to sit through a series of losing seasons before getting back into the playoffs last year.
"I think it's more rewarding now for me personally because I'm older and I've been through a lot more. That was my first year in the league, so I didn't really appreciate it," Collison said.
"It's been a long time since I was there, so I appreciate all the success a lot more after being through some tough years."