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.
Sep 19, 2014, 9:45 PM EDT
Chapman played four years for the Suns, and is facing charges in Scottsdale, AZ.
Sep 19, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT
Must-read quote from Bogut on how he does NOT want to be perceived.
Sep 19, 2014, 5:59 PM EDT
This post is here to make life easier for you when you want to find these at the end of the season and point out how wrong we were.
UPDATED Report: Timberwolves make push for Eric Bledsoe, Suns not interested in sign-and-trade talks
Sep 19, 2014, 5:11 PM EDT
It has to be a sign and trade and Minnesota doesn’t have a lot of leverage here.
Sep 19, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
“It was more just becoming a better all-around player, trying to take the next step and become a leader on this team and will my team to win.” —Jeff Green
Sep 19, 2014, 3:28 PM EDT
And you wonder why Phil Jackson is worth $12 million a year to the Knicks organization.
Sep 19, 2014, 2:50 PM EDT
Budenholzer got thrust into a position with the power a lot of coaches covet.
Sep 19, 2014, 2:07 PM EDT
Sep 19, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
Best. Name. Ever.
Sep 19, 2014, 12:47 PM EDT
Heat point guard one-ups Andre Drummond with trick shot
Sep 19, 2014, 12:44 PM EDT
Will he make Cleveland’s regular-season roster?
Sep 19, 2014, 12:05 PM EDT
Full recap from the launch event at Nike World Headquarters in Portland, Oregon, including technical information, details on colorways, and confirmed release dates.
Sep 19, 2014, 11:32 AM EDT
Elbow injury would have kept him out of camp.
Sep 19, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
Kyle Lowry and Co. return for another run
Sep 19, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
Former Kings draft pick joins three other players competing to make Memphis’ roster
Sep 19, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Raduljica, after solid rookie year, leaves NBA sooner than he’d hoped.
Sep 19, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT
Alfonso Ribeiro can still do that dance.
Sep 19, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
“Then it became a competition amongst guys and now you really got into it more and you started to really understand the clothes you put on your body.” —Dwyane Wade
Sep 19, 2014, 12:01 AM EDT
Saunders wants the rookie to earn it.
- UPDATED Report: Timberwolves make push for Eric Bledsoe, Suns not interested in sign-and-trade talks 19
- LeBron James unveils latest signature shoe from Nike: The LEBRON 12 11
- ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Toronto Raptors 8
- Dwyane Wade credits David Stern’s dress code for improving his style 15
- Kevin Durant has grown close with Karl Malone 15
- ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Philadelphia 76ers 5
- Steve Kerr said Danny Ferry made mistake but is a “man of high character” 33
- LeBron James on Kyrie Irving: “I believe Kyrie can be the best point guard in the league.” 25