This game was different. For the first time in the series’ six games there was no comeback. The Oklahoma City Thunder took the lead early in Memphis and never gave it up as they routed the Grizzlies 104-84 and evened the series at three games apiece.
Kevin Durant was different. After an Oklahoma City newspaper labeled him “Mr. Unreliable,” Durant poured in 36 points on 11 of 23 from the field and 14 of 15 from the free throw line. He also pulled down 10 rebounds and said after the game that his “Mr. Unreliable” moniker was not the catalyst for his performance on Thursday night, “We were down 3-2, on the brink of elimination, that’s enough motivation for us all.”
Oklahoma City’s shot selection was different. After combining for an average of over 18 three-point attempts in the Thunder’s three losses, Durant and Russell Westbrook had only eight attempts between them on Thursday. None of Durant’s 36 points came from the three-point line, and Westbrook made only two, accounting for only six of his 25 points in the win. “We did a great job of just being calm,” said Westbrook, adding “for 48 minutes we never took a long dip. They’re going to make runs; that’s what good teams do, and our job is to come back and stay together and make one right back.” The runs that the Memphis Grizzlies made never got them closer than five points at 42-37 in the second quarter. The Thunder squelched that rally with a 14-4 run to close out the half and widened the lead to 82-61 at the end of the third quarter.
The Oklahoma City starting lineup was different on Thursday. Caron Butler got the start for Thabo Sefalosha, and went 2 for 4 from the three-point line. He also contributed four rebounds and three assists. Reggie Jackson came off of the bench for the Thunder and contributed 16 points, hitting 6 for 9 from the field and 4 of 5 in three-point shots. Marc Gasol led the Grizzlies with 17 points and Zach Randolph had 16.
The outcome for bench-scoring was different. The Grizzlies bench outscored the Thunder bench 42-22, and for the first time in the series, the team which had the most scoring from their bench did not win the game.
With the Thunder evening the series with the Memphis Grizzlies 104-84, the teams now head to Oklahoma City for a decisive game seven on Saturday. The Thunder have not been eliminated in the first round of the NBA Playoffs since 2010, and Kevin Durant knows for that trend to continue, he needs to be more like he was Thursday night, “I just wanted to go out there and leave it all out on the floor…I’ve got to take it to another level as far as my intensity and my defensive awareness in game seven. I’m looking forward to it.”
The Memphis Grizzlies may be without their starting point guard on Saturday. Mike Conley went down with a strained hamstring in the third quarter. He tried to return but was still hampered by the injury and finally left the game in the fourth quarter for good. There is no word on whether his condition will keep him out of the final game of the series.
Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky