May 15, 2011, 10:53 AM EDT
Kevin Durant has played on big stages before. Just this past summer he led Team USA to gold in the World Championships for example.
But his first ever NBA Game 7 is maybe his biggest stage yet, and if the Thunder are going to advance they need more out of him.
With Tony Allen and Shane Battier hounding him, Durant is shooting 43.2 percent, both down from his 27.7 points per game on 46.2 percent during the season. He shot 35 percent from thee in the regular season, 30.2 percent this series. He was 3-of-13 in Game 6. In the regular season he dished out nearly 3 assists per game, in this series he has eight total through six games.
Every time he has shot this series, it has seemed a hand was in his face. Russell Westbrook has taken heat for his shooting too much and not passing enough (with some good reason at times), but the fact is Durant has not been open like he has been in the past. The Thunder need to get Durant better looks, create some room for him to catch-and-shoot or at least put the ball on the floor and get into the lane.
Look for the Thunder to find matchup ways to get Durant the ball where he wants it. That could involve more Nick Collison rather than Kendrick Perkins (Collison draws Marc Gasol out of the paint because you have to respect Collison’s midrange shot). Maybe we see some Durant as the four. Maybe a lot of things, but the Thunder need to get him going.
Memphis is going to stick with what worked in Game 6 — O.J. Mayo will start, providing some floor spacing to give Zach Randolph more room. Serge Ibaka (and at times Perkins) have to take that space away. They did from games two through five and Randolph was held in check. He dominated Game 6, especially late. The Thunder must double, deny and generally make sure someone else beats them.
That someone may be Mike Conley, who will be key for the Grizzlies as he runs the point.
Game 7s can make young players nervous, the pressure can lead to cautious and ugly basketball. The team that breaks through that hesitation first will have a huge advantage. If that is Westbrook attack and shooting too much, so be it. Somebody needs to grab hold of this game and just take it over. Both teams have a few guys who can do that, but the Thunder are at home and have the better wing athletes. This should be their time. If they are ready for it.
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