Durant Wins It, But Not Without Help


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OKLAHOMA CITY – News that All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook would miss the entire playoffs rippled across the NBA like an earthquake tremor. The epicenter was Oklahoma City where the shock was sudden and the aftermath is fueling new opportunities for a team that still aspires to win it all.

“It was kind of a gut-punch initially that day at practice, and the whole day you could tell guys were disappointed and down,” reserve forward-center Nick Collison said. “Of course we’re at a deep disadvantage without him, but I don’t think we work that way really. We do a good job of seeing what’s right in front of us.”

As the Memphis Grizzlies frustratingly discovered on Sunday afternoon, count out the Thunder at your own peril. Oklahoma City stole Game 1 on its own home floor, rallying from 12 down late in the third quarter to take a 93-91 decision on a go-ahead, pull-up jumper by Mr. Clutch, Kevin Durant, with 11.1 seconds to go.

“My teammates did a great job of setting me up all game,” Durant said. “I missed some easy ones, some chippies, and I was able to hit that one.”

Let the box score show Durant with a game-high 35 points on 13-for-26 shooting, 15 rebounds, six assists, a couple blocked shots and a steal in 44 exhaustive, mandatory minutes. Yet the opportunity for OKC’s Big One to put his team ahead for good was supplied, as much of the Thunder’s gusto on this day was, from role players coming up big in Westbrook’s absence.

As OKC continues to adjust and tweak on the fly, it is discovering what lies beneath.

They’re finding a resilient Kevin Martin, who scored 25 points, 15 in a critical second-quarter stand when OKC scored 33 points without Durant attempting a shot. Martin’s game, which also included a season-high seven rebounds and a late fourth-quarter swat of Quincy Pondexter in the lane, came on the heels of scoring 26 in the clincher at Houston after being left for dead and his OKC future being questioned, following his Game 5 stinker.

Derek Fisher proved he can still bring it in the clutch at age 38, hitting both of his 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, the first to start the period with OKC down nine. Then he’s making the defensive play of the game with 20 seconds to go, stripping driving Memphis guard Mike Conley from behind just before he can ascend to the rim and triggering a rush the other way for Durant’s big bucket.

The moment once again didn’t swallow second-year guard Reggie Jackson, who starts in place of Westbrook but watched from the bench while Fisher played down the stretch until the final possession when Memphis had to foul with 3.5 seconds to go — a sequence set up by Thabo Sefolosha’s deflection of an errant Marc Gasol pass. Jackson calmly sank both free throws, as he did against Houston, to make it 93-90 with 1.6 seconds left.

Fisher and Jackson totaled 20 points with a couple of assists and just one turnover. Conley, coming off a big series going toe-to-toe with All-Star Chris Paul, finished with 13 points, three assists and two turnovers. The final one cost Memphis the game.

“We got a nice little flow going right now,” Martin said. “I think we settled in, realizing that we’re not going to have Russell, and guys are stepping up.”

How about Thunder coach Scott Brooks, who absorbs criticism at times for stubbornly sticking to lineups? When he deployed a small unit for the first time in the game as he sensed it getting away at 70-58 with 1:57 left in the third quarter, the momentum shifted drastically in OKC’s favor. A 15-5 run — with three of the Grizzlies’ points coming on Pondexter’s halfcourt heave at the end of the third — cut Memphis’ lead to 75-73 with 10:10 to play.

And his trust in Durant to take the turnover created by Fisher’s poke of Conley uninterrupted by a timeout proved masterful. The ball came to Durant who pushed it up at his coach’s insistence. With Memphis trying to get back, Durant pulled up from 19 and banged it home.

It was a game the resolute Thunder could have lost and one the Grizzlies believe they should have won.

“I feel like we gave it away, honestly,” said Zach Randolph, who had 18 points and 10 rebounds.

But that’s not giving the Thunder enough credit. OKC’s big men, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka, were atrocious offensively, going 2-for-16 from the floor, and Perkins nearly blew OKC’s chance altogether when Durant’s routine inbounds pass slipped through his hands, leaving Durant rolling his eyes and Memphis with the ball up 90-87 and 1:07 to go.

But the Thunder’s inside duo made Memphis’ Randolph and Gasol pay a physical price in the paint. Perkins played 34 minutes, the most of OKC’s starters other than Durant, and played big in holding the inside-oriented Grizzlies to just 32 points in the paint and four second-chance points on eight total offensive rebounds.

It wasn’t always pretty — OKC missed its first 10 shots and scored 31 points in the first and third quarters combined — and it won’t be the rest of the way. But in taking Game 1, the Thunder, down a star, are coming up with alternatives.

“We know what Russell brings to our team,” Brooks said. “He’s an amazing player and an incredible leader that has been missed, there’s no doubt. But we’ve changed in different ways. We’re different, but we’re still a good team and on both ends of the floor we present problems.”

30 Comments

  1. RayRay says:

    Grizzlies is too strong defensively and knows how to shoot efficiently, i like their shot choices,

    Grizzlies gon’ win this series

    and the refs were making bad calls, not calling fouls against okc and calling some no contacts as a foul against grizzlies,

    but i truely think that the grizzlies will win this series!

  2. tony says:

    So far the only team that shoots three as good as golden State are the Houston Rocket. Grizzlies no way can shoot like the Rocket. They do most of the damages from the inside but remember Perkin and Ibaka were not up to challenges lately. If they do indeed step up OKC get better chances with Durant. I believe OKC made more adjustments deeper into the playoff. OKC in 7…

  3. MTOWN says:

    Grizzlies should win this series. Mike Conley lost game 1 for the Grizzlies but this will be just like the clippers series. Grizz will win 4-1. Durrant is good but not Lebron or Kobe. He cant carry them through this round. Durrant is good but not that good.

  4. Rocks says:

    A win is a win in the play-offs. It doesn’t matter if it’s a home game with a small margins. Whoever says the OKC were lucky to come out victorious then your basketball IQ is questionable. How do you get lucky against a good team like the Grizzles? You need more than luck to a beat a team like that. You need to focus, you need to hustle, you need to grind and you need to persevere. Not luck. Determination and the will to win. OKC brought all that in Game 1. Game 2 will be the same. And you know what, the Grizzles don’t need luck to beat OKC as well. If they bring it then they will win. I don’t believe in this luck thing. Put up or shut up. This is the play-offs baby. Go OKC!!!!!

  5. Tom says:

    Almost losing on home court with big games from their 2 best scorers? Thunder are done in 5/6

  6. Antonio B. says:

    forget about all the what ifs………..dont count the Thunder out people….everybody has their team of choice…they can win this series without Husle Westbrook but it will be tough…….Rolling Thunder baby

  7. ryan says:

    If OKC wins this series, that would be amazing. Memphis is a very good defensive team. Without Westbrook and winning would be amazing. I have OKC in 6 games. Go KD

  8. jerry1125 says:

    right off the thunder if you wish, but they will prove you wrong every time. durant is just too good

  9. dmac from aotearoa says:

    thunder win and there big boys had a very quiet day, everyone says the grizzlies have got this series, never doubt the thunder as long as kd is on the floor. this series is going to reveal durantulas true character and prove all you doubters wrong! Up the thunder

  10. lynn says:

    The author stated OKC big men didn’t play well so ZBO is not giving OKC enough credit by saying Memphis should have won. I disagree. Memphis back court didn’t play very well either, and they gave the game away via missed free throws and miscues down the stretch.

  11. Samuel says:

    gettin sick n tired of seeing headlines with Durant’s big ol mouth open….can’t wait till they get knocked outta the playoffs.

  12. Josef says:

    In the first game, seems to me, OKC team caught luck.

  13. caloyski says:

    All OKC has to do is simple to win series–PROTECT HOME COURT

  14. nick says:

    so durant got help but james is not when he plays with wade and bosh and the deepest bench..lebron for mvp i guess…thats promotion…nothing changes….

  15. Gary Payton says:

    Grizzles in 6!

  16. jack says:

    OKC is not the same team. It is clear to see the tremendous effort without Russ. If Kevin 2 and Sephalosha play faster and Serge and Perkins keep up with Gasol and Randolph the may have a chance. Go OKC.Continue tinkering defense make Gasol and Randolph work harder. Ibaka’s and Kevin 2 age may be critical for he next games.

  17. tony says:

    Ibaka is shooting 1 for 10 and outplayed by Z Bo, Perkin and Thabo are still not contributing offensively and yet OKC still win. Slowly you can see that OKC are making better adjustment as game go by. most people are saying Memphis is going to win….! By the time Memphis go fishing then they will say SA will win….we’ll see. Westbrook is already fishing

    • bigwes95 says:

      but Durant had an amazing game that he definitely won’t have every game, or even every 4 games. martin exploded for 30-somthing, and OKC barely won, they got some lucky breaks that won’t happen often, especially against a team like Memphis, and don’t forget that OKC almost blew it as well with that turnover to gasol. if they converted and conley didn’t turn it over, which won’t happen often in the closing moments, then this game would definitely be different, but that’s just what-ifs right now. they barely won at home, imagine it at Memphis without the support or fans there. like Durant said about Houston winning at home, “Essentially, they did what they were supposed to do — win at home. … What’s the panic about?” so I don’t see the big deal of OKC winning by less than 5 at home with two players having almost career nights.

      • row says:

        KD’s ppg average this year is almost 30 points, so to call this game a “career night” is a bit too much don’t you think?

        Also, while martin definitely stepped up, there were other players who were uncharacteristically bad. Ibaka, Perkins, made nothing. It’s not going to be like that every game.

        it’s going to be a close series. At least six games, but more likely seven.

  18. Ben says:

    How deep do OKC go in the playoffs before the questions are asked in the back offices about whether Westbrook can play? You gotta know, that in the heads of the GMs, the coaches etc, there has to be that lingering hope that maybe, just maybe, they can get Russell back on the court when it counts…

  19. Kimmy says:

    …..One game at a time. Go OKC! Watch out for the Thunder!

  20. Unexpected says:

    I don’t see them taking another one from the Grizz in this series. Unless they win game 2 as well, I’m calling the Grizz winning this one. Too good if a team for Durant to handle on his own.

  21. holyspectator says:

    grizz vs spurs WCF…should be one hell of a series

    • jerry1125 says:

      don’t get ahead of yourself. OKC are capable of anything while Durant is on the floor….

  22. MJfromOKC says:

    Im glad to see Fran Blinebury is not writing an article about OKC he cannot help but taint it with some shade of negativity. This saves me time from having to get on twitter and having to discipline him.