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.
Oct 22, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
“Understand that it’s a cycle and things are never as good or as bad as they seem in the moment.” —Kobe Bryant
Oct 22, 2014, 12:10 AM EDT
Combining the NBA and 90210? Brilliant.
Oct 21, 2014, 10:45 PM EDT
It’s better to be lucky than good.
Oct 21, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
A hit job on Kobe Bryant by a major media outlet is drawing plenty of criticism.
Sixers’ K.J. McDaniels with a two-handed rejection, has more preseason blocks than Anthony Davis (VIDEO)
Oct 21, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
McDaniels has amassed 14 blocked shots this preseason — more than guys like DeAndre Jordan and Anthony Davis.
Oct 21, 2014, 7:35 PM EDT
Solid big men get overpaid consistently and have for many years. In light of that fact, this deal is just fine.
Oct 21, 2014, 6:33 PM EDT
Kirk Hinrich will get the start.
Oct 21, 2014, 5:40 PM EDT
James Harden’s defense isn’t as bad as some people say… but it’s not good.
Oct 21, 2014, 4:50 PM EDT
It’s possible, but not likely, that Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov will buy the rest of the building.
Oct 21, 2014, 4:01 PM EDT
The Lakers defense makes them lottery locks.
Oct 21, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Philadelphia, Oklahoma City and Milwaukee still need five more teams to join their side
Oct 21, 2014, 2:49 PM EDT
Watch after the draft lottery next year when a team like the Lakers, Celtics or Knicks jumps way up the board so they can draft a young star and some smaller market owners cry it’s unfair.
Oct 21, 2014, 2:07 PM EDT
The only precedent for LeBron, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving? LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh
Oct 21, 2014, 1:35 PM EDT
Iman Shumpert is wearing a hat with a clock on it. That is all.
Oct 21, 2014, 12:59 PM EDT
Center played just five games last season
Oct 21, 2014, 12:22 PM EDT
Chicago point guard still clearly has respect of teammates
Oct 21, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT
New Orleans adds its missing link in Omer Asik
Oct 21, 2014, 11:14 AM EDT
Expect him to be out until mid- to late December.
Oct 21, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
They’re not as good as Mark Cuban thinks they are, but they are improved.
Oct 21, 2014, 9:44 AM EDT
Projecting Cleveland’s win total based on its minute distribution against the Bulls
- Kobe Bryant responds to ESPN article with basically a shrug (VIDEO) 0
- Paul George refutes report he didn’t want to play with Kobe Bryant: ‘Media reaching again’ 12
- PBT Extra preview: Lakers, Celtics big name teams headed to lottery 11
- Could lottery reform be bad for small market teams? Sam Presti argues yes. 19
- LeBron James and his difficult-to-assess super teams 27
- Kevin Durant on return: “I’m not going to rush it all” 13
- ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 preview: Dallas Mavericks 7
- LeBron James: “(The Bulls) are a team that’s much better than us right now just off chemistry” 36