May 2, 2014, 12:16 AM EDT
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.
May 3, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
The Clippers got a free look at the final play.
May 3, 2015, 12:58 AM EDT
Tell me again how he can’t win the big one.
May 2, 2015, 11:53 PM EDT
There’s not going to be a better series these playoffs.
May 2, 2015, 10:56 PM EDT
It was going to take a shot like that to win this, the best first-round series in recent memory.
May 2, 2015, 9:03 PM EDT
He was out for eight minutes the Clippers were only -2.
May 2, 2015, 8:30 PM EDT
Dudley has player option for $4.25 million for next season, but hopes to back in Milwaukee regardless.
May 2, 2015, 7:00 PM EDT
The Warriors (and the Bulls, and the Hawks) may have something to say about that.
May 2, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT
Portland was very good with Matthews healthy this season, but he’s now an unrestricted free agent, and it’s unclear how high the Blazers will go to retain his services.
May 2, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
Changes are ahead in Brooklyn, and Johnson sees them coming.
May 2, 2015, 2:39 PM EDT
Well-deserved, but somehow Dunleavy comes away unscathed.
Nets coach Lionel Hollins on whether it took too long for his team to figure things out: ‘Did we make the playoffs?’
May 2, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Hollins was defiant after the Nets were eliminated from the postseason, and believes the fact that they made the playoffs at all was an achievement worth noticing.
May 2, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
Korver’s hot start was indicative of how things would go.
May 2, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
Dunleavy hit Michael Carter-Williams in the neck early in Chicago’s Game 6 win over the Bucks.
May 2, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
Does Blake Griffin have another big fourth quarter in him.
May 2, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
The guy Rose was guarding shot only 39 percent for the Bucks.
May 2, 2015, 12:01 AM EDT
Impossible to believe.
May 1, 2015, 10:34 PM EDT
Atlanta’s elite offense returned, and Brooklyn had no answers.
May 1, 2015, 9:45 PM EDT
An earlier report emerged that said the Celtics planned on trying to trade for Cousins this summer.
May 1, 2015, 8:45 PM EDT
Clippers bench is very thin as it is.
May 1, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT
Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler repeatedly found their way into the paint and were able to convert at the rim.
- Hobbled Chris Paul, Clippers’ role players do just enough to dethrone Spurs in Game 7 8
- Chris Paul banks in game winner to lift Clippers past Spurs (VIDEO) 24
- PBT Extra: Can Clippers build on Game 6 win? 2
- PBT Extra with NBASavant.com: Derrick Rose got it done on both ends in first round 2
- Hawks eliminate Nets from playoffs with blowout victory in Game 6 9
- PBT Extra: Clash of styles favors Warriors over Grizzlies 4
- PBT Second-Round Playoff Previews: Golden State Warriors vs. Memphis Grizzlies 3
- PBT Extra: Bulls have shot to upset Cavaliers 16