May 2, 2014, 12:16 AM EST
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!
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.
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.
Jan 29, 2015, 1:29 AM EST
The Sixers, Knicks and Timberwolves win on the same day? Isn’t that one of the signs of the apocalypse?
Jan 29, 2015, 12:01 AM EST
The good news is that Walker may return in as little as six weeks, which means Charlotte’s playoff chances should remain intact.
Jan 28, 2015, 11:15 PM EST
The Hall of Famer held the previous record with 33 points in a period, but did so before the three-point line was implemented.
Jan 28, 2015, 10:30 PM EST
This one’s not too bad.
Jan 28, 2015, 9:43 PM EST
Kyrie Irving should have had the NBA Jam announcer calling this game.
Jan 28, 2015, 8:50 PM EST
Barnes immediately played the victim card after receiving the fine, but the NBA (and the video) say otherwise.
Jan 28, 2015, 7:50 PM EST
“Softer but not illegal,” Jackson attempted to clarify.
Jan 28, 2015, 7:00 PM EST
Cleveland is just 1-8 without LeBron in the lineup this season.
Kobe Bryant expected to be ready for start of 2015-16 season after undergoing successful shoulder surgery
Jan 28, 2015, 6:37 PM EST
Bryant will miss the remainder of the current season, and is expected to be sidelined for nine months.
Jan 28, 2015, 6:13 PM EST
One may have to work a little harder to find the late night parties in Cleveland.
Jan 28, 2015, 5:30 PM EST
Larry Sanders’ suspension allows Milwaukee to add 16th player
Jan 28, 2015, 4:45 PM EST
He is likely bought out if the Celtics can’t find a trade partner.
Jan 28, 2015, 3:59 PM EST
He had a broken wrist.
Jan 28, 2015, 3:08 PM EST
Wiggins also joins three other Timberwolves
Jan 28, 2015, 2:30 PM EST
Jan 28, 2015, 1:55 PM EST
Teletovic being released from hospital today
Jan 28, 2015, 1:17 PM EST
Jackson said breaking rule gave New York an edge due to team’s style of play
Jan 28, 2015, 12:42 PM EST
Thunder remain heavy favorites
Jan 28, 2015, 12:05 PM EST
The Raptors are trying to be patient and tap into his potential.
Jan 28, 2015, 11:17 AM EST
Mirotic, drafted in 2011, is a darkhorse challenger to Andrew Wiggins for Rookie of the Year
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