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Kevin Durant thoroughly, easily – and, yes, reliably – dismantles Grizzlies in Game 6

May 2, 2014, 12:16 AM EDT

Kevin Durant Kevin Durant

The Oklahoman. Tony Allen. An elimination game in the Grindhouse.

Kevin Durant faced pressure from all directions.

Yet, the the Oklahoma City Thunder relied on their MVP-to-be to extend their season. And it worked!

Mr. UnReliable scored 36 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the Thunder’s 104-84 Game 6 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday.

Durant earned a stay of scrutiny, though only temporarily. The Oklahoman’s point, even if initially miscommunicated, was accurate. Durant had not been reliable throughout this series. A cold Game 7 on Saturday against the battered and bruised Grizzlies – Mike Conley left the game with an injury – and the criticism of Durant will return in greater force than ever.

But, until proven otherwise, Durant has earned the benefit of the doubt. Reliability is not proven in five games, and adding Durant’s Game 6 (11-of-17 on 2-pointers, 0-for-6 on 3-pointers and 14-of-15 on free throws) to the scale tips it in a different direction.

This was not Durant’s best game,  mostly because that bar is absurdly high. He was just reliably good when his team’s season was on the line.

Durant needed barely more than 14 minutes to score 18 points, doing most of that damage before his defensive nemesis, Allen, even entered the game. Allen later had his moments, but Durant was not nearly as bothered as he’d been previously.

The Thunder leading by at least 15 for the final 25 minutes also helped keep Durant comfortable.

Russell Westbrook (25 points on 9-of-21 shooting, nine rebounds, five assists, three steals and four turnovers) provided his usual compromise – sometimes-erratic, but much-more-often-effective, play.

Scott Brooks’ decision to start Caron Butler over Thabo Sefolosha paid off with Butler spacing the floor by making 2-of-4 3-pointers. Many wanted Reggie Jackson inserted into the starting lineup instead, but Brooks kept Jackson in the second unit, and the point guard scored 16 points on 4-of-5 3-point shooting.

Serge Ibaka (four blocks) and Steven Adams (five blocks) anchored a defense that held the Grizzlies to 37 percent shooting and a series-low 84 points. Of course, ending the game after the fourth quarter helped keep Memphis’ scoring down.

For the first time in five games, the Thunder and Grizzlies didn’t play overtime – and that reminded us of something that was getting lost

The Thunder are better than Memphis.

They were better all season, and they’re better now. Not so much better that they’ll necessarily win Game 7, but better.

Oklahoma City has won games in this series by 14 points and 20 points. That leaves four overtime – i.e., coin-flip – games, three of which the Thunder lost. Had they won one more of those, this series would be over. You can claim “What if?” about overtime games, not 14- and 20-point losses.

Wednesday, Marc Gasol (17 points) and Zach Randolph (16 points), but by the end of the game, they were sitting sullenly on the bench. More worrying, Conley was in the locker room.

Conley went to the lock room late in the third quarter with a right hamstring strain. He returned for 56 seconds in the fourth quarter, but then he went back the locker room for the rest of the game.

The Grizzlies point guard struggled Wednesday (2-for-10 shooting), but it’s difficult to see Memphis winning a Game 7 on the road without him. He’s a major plus on both ends of the floor – especially for a team that already lost its backup point guard, Nick Calathes, to suspension.

In 18 playoff games against each other in the last four years, including 308 minutes in this series, the Thunder and Grizzlies have grown tired of each other. Butler and James Johnson got into a tizzy, drawing a double technical foul, and Randolph and Adams later had to be separated. Play got chippy at points, even though the lack of drama in the game’s result probably eased tension.

The battle hasn’t ended. We have, at least, 48 minutes left in what’s been a mostly well-played series.

Durant proved tonight the Thunder can rely on him when it matters most, but he proved it only for a night. Now, Saturday matters most.

Is Kevin Durant reliable? It’s a question he’ll answer – again – in Game 7.

  1. Foul Dwimmerlaik - May 2, 2014 at 12:53 AM

    Good on you, KD35.

    You let your actions do the talking… and HOW!

    Well done, well played. You took those criticisms against you in a matured manner most people even older than you almost always fail to do.

  2. ranfan12 - May 2, 2014 at 1:58 AM

    Grizzlies not ready for a focused OKC

    • Foul Dwimmerlaik - May 2, 2014 at 2:16 AM

      I don’t know, man. If this Grizz team is composed of playoff neophytes then I would have agreed with you. But they’re not. If anything, this team with its core players still there is to me akin to giant-slayers. Seeding doesn’t mean much as they have this great potential for an upset.

      I think the Grizzlies were ready even for a focused OKC.

      It’s just perhaps that the Thunder were more ready to counter Memphis’ attempt for another series upset.

      • ranfan12 - May 2, 2014 at 2:51 AM

        You’re right. That defense was something else during most of the series. It’s going to be a hard final game for both teams, and the thunder has the momentum in their favor going back home. Can’t out them out just yet

      • Foul Dwimmerlaik - May 2, 2014 at 3:05 AM

        Agreed. Can’t count out both of them out.

        Sadly, whoever loses Game 7 would have the ignominy of being booted out in the first round and that would be what people would likely remember regardless of how hardly contested the series was.

  3. rodyaugu - May 2, 2014 at 7:37 AM

    Durant gets the credits in wins, Westbrook gets the blame in losses. He’s the only player of that caliber in nba history with that privilege. Not only he’s protected on the court, he’s also protected on the court of public opinion.

    • jasper36 - May 2, 2014 at 7:54 AM

      I agree it’s like every reporter in league rushes to Durants defense. Stephen Curry’s the same way they never talk about the eight turnover games or the 30 percent shooting games. Just the 15-20 Freethrow games. And I hate to be that guy (I Really Do!), but if it was Lebron, or Dwight the media would be crucifying them.

      • calkinsrob - May 2, 2014 at 12:06 PM

        I think its just because durant isnt outspoken about his abilities at all. I may be wrong I dont know the guy. but Hes not claiming to be the ‘Chosen One’ or ‘ King Durant’.

        I agree though, either he should be criticized just as much or people need to calm down on ripping on Dwight/Lebron.

    • bballhistorian - May 2, 2014 at 8:16 AM

      ^^^^ TRUTH ^^^

    • asimonetti88 - May 2, 2014 at 10:48 AM

      Have yu been living under a rock the last week or just willfully ignoring all the articles about how inefficient Durant has been this series?

  4. rrhoe - May 2, 2014 at 10:12 AM

    As I posted a few days ago,OKC needs a shooting guard,he doesn’t need to score alot but he needs be a threat to score,Caron Butler gave them that. Floor spacing becomes very important for them when they basically get nothing from Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha isn’t much of a threat also. Having two of the best players in the league will only get you so far if the supporting cast isn’t much to worry about.

    • sportsfan18 - May 2, 2014 at 4:08 PM

      Good points…

      People say talent, talent, talent so much…

      And it IS important…

      BUT so IS roster construction… players that compliment each other’s games…

      Teamwork…

      Uh, does anyone do this?

      Duh, the Spurs realize that playing team basketball is paramount and they work on constructing their roster with their system in mind…

      Do they make the occasional mistake? Yes as no one is perfect…

      They are far more successful than not though…

      Just look at the Detroit Pistons this past season and how their roster and new acquisitions played with each other…

  5. kb2408 - May 2, 2014 at 11:01 AM

    The only people questioning his reliability was na OKC newspaper and LBJ fans that are so afraid that someone is going to knock their hero off his perch as the best player in the world. They’re so eager to see KD fail, especially since it’s pretty clear he’s going to win league MVP by a landslide. LBJ lovers don’t get your panties all in a bunch, he is still the best player in the world. But KD is coming!

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