By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
MEMPHIS – It’s part of the sport’s vernacular now, in the way MLB has its “walk-off homers” and the NFL its “pick sixes.” Oklahoma City’s Reggie Jackson had a “podium game” Saturday night, scoring 32 points – more than Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined – and earning his crew an overtime victory over the Grizzlies at FedEx Forum to even the best-of-seven series at 2-2.
Only he didn’t get his podium.
The Thunder always send Durant and Westbrook into the interview room – where they sit behind microphones at a table on a platform or podium, if you’re into etymology – win or lose. It’s a tradition that’s become a box because now, if they play poorly or OKC loses, they dare not skip the postgame session or they might look as if they’re ducking something.
So a guy like Jackson can have the night of his young life, but he doesn’t get to punctuate like a thoroughly modern athlete, sitting next to a prop sports drink and fielding questions as if at a White House briefing.
Not to worry. Jackson did talk about his big night to a circle of writers and cameras in the cozy visitors’ dressing room. And he got something better than a podium – he got a hug from Durant that had him choking up a bit.
“We told each other we love each other,” Jackson said. “I never expected something like this would happen, especially in these playoffs.”
Modesty talking, probably, because Memphis coach Dave Joerger had referred to Jackson as the Thunder’s X factor days ago and was just waiting – and flinching – for Jackson to catch up. Through the first three games, the legit Sixth Man candidate had averaged just 5.0 points on 15.8 percent shooting (3-of-19, 0-of-6 on 3FGAs). That was some serious regressing off his 13.1 ppg and 44.0 percent accuracy during the season.
Frustrating as that might have been for Jackson, the Thunder and their fans as the team slipped behind in the series, right to the brink of a 1-3 hole, the third-year point guard from Pordenone, Italy, by way of Colorado Springs and Boston College picked the opportune time to get involved.
Durant was having an uncharacteristically miserable night shooting the ball – 5-of-21 – and Westbrook was more haywire than usual at 6-of-24. No matter that the game ground on for an extra five minutes – by then, they were happy to yield the hardwood to Jackson, who scored eight of OKC’s 12 points in overtime after nailing its final five to tie in regulation.
The Thunder had led by as much as 14 in the third quarter, but trailed 80-75 with 1:14 left. Out of a timeout, Jackson shook off both Durant and Westbrook and brazenly launched a 3-pointer from the right wing that hit. After a Memphis turnover, it was Jackson again, his runner from 9 feet at 30.6 seconds ordering up the OT.
“Coach [Scott Brooks] kinda called my number when I had the ball a few times and I was bringing it up,” Jackson said. “Nobody really said anything. It was more the look in their eyes.
“Unfortunately the shots weren’t going down for [Durant and Westbrook]. As a whole, as a team, it seems like it’s been like that the whole series. I was happy to be in the moment, go out there and have fun with the game.”
As cockeyed as the two Thunder stars shot, there wasn’t a moment when the Grizzlies players guarding them exhaled. Their threat at least spaced the floor, which gave Jackson seams to attack at hyper-speed.
“You’ve got to stay honest,” forward Caron Butler said. “Now those doorways start looking like streets. You get in them lanes and the defense kind of loosens up.”
Memphis’ defense opened up for Jackson but few others. Both teams shot under 38 percent and Oklahoma City had quarters of 15 and 16 points and turned over the ball 21 times.
Let’s put it this way, the Grizzlies picked a bad night to miss 10 free throws.
And so this series shifts back to Oklahoma after three consecutive overtime games and eight between the teams since the start of the 2010-11 season. The Grizzlies and the Thunder have totaled 7,478 minutes of basketball head-to-head in that time, including the postseason, a number that dwarfs the NBA’s No. 2 showdown (Miami and Boston, 6,605).
The teams have thoroughly scouted each other and, by this point, don’t much care for the guys lined up across from them. Now Memphis has to win one more, at least, on OKC’s court and, as limited as its own offensive options are, it has an extra Thunder gunner to worry about now.
“I think this is a great matchup for TV ratings,” said the guy who doesn’t know podia.