Durant coming through as a closer once again
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Pondering Kevin Durant’s latest big-time shot on the playoff stage, Lionel Hollins started listing a who’s who of NBA greats from days gone by: Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Sam Jones, John Havlicek, George Mikan, Bob Pettit.
What do they all have in common?
“If you just go through the history, all the great players made big shots,” said Hollins, the Memphis Grizzlies coach. “That’s why they’re great, not just good.”
“If you’re not a clutch player, you’re not a great player,” he added. “You cannot be a great player and not be a clutch player.”
Durant is trying to blaze his own path to greatness with his own successes in the closer’s role for the Oklahoma City Thunder. His jumper with 11.1 seconds left in Oklahoma City’s Game 1 victory against Memphis on Sunday marked the third time already this postseason that the All-Star has produced the go-ahead basket late in a close game.
He also did it with a 3-pointer in the final minute of Game 3 against Houston in the first round and another 3 with just under 2 minutes to go in Game 2 against the Rockets.
“That’s how you build a legacy. That’s how you become a part of the history of this game is by making those great shots,” said teammate Derek Fisher, a five-time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers who has his made his own share of clutch postseason shots and been around for Kobe Bryant making plenty, too. “And Kevin, only five or six years into the league, is becoming one of those guys that we’ll remember forever. It’s always great to be on the same team with those kind of guys.”
The Grizzlies led 90-87 entering the final minute of Game 1 after Marc Gasol’s hook shot over Kendrick Perkins. Durant hit jumpers on Oklahoma City’s next two possessions, and the Grizzlies — who traded away their go-to guy, Rudy Gay, earlier this season — couldn’t match him in crunch time.
Instead of stealing Game 1 on the road, they’re down 0-1 heading into Game 2 in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night.
While Durant was doing his damage, Memphis had four possessions in the final minute and didn’t get the production needed.
After a Perkins turnover, Tayshaun Prince missed on a runner in the lane and Durant connected to cut the Thunder’s deficit to 90-89. Then Mike Conley sped past Fisher, only to get the ball poked out from behind and set up Durant’s go-ahead basket in transition.
The Grizzlies countered by trying to feed Gasol in the post, but Oklahoma City disrupted the play and it wound up as a turnover. After Reggie Jackson’s two free throws put the Thunder up three, Hollins drew up a play to get reserve Quincy Pondexter open for a 3-pointer.
None of the trips resulted in a shot for All-Star power forward Zach Randolph, who Hollins said Monday he considers his most clutch player. Conley, Gasol and Jerryd Bayless also made his list.
With All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook out for the rest of the playoffs, the Thunder’s go-to guy is unquestionably Durant.
“There’s no question guys have it and guys don’t, and Kevin has it,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “He loves big moments. I’m sure he’s always been that type of player from the day he picked up a basketball. He has it because he has the skill level, he has the ability to get where he wants to get to.
“In order to really have it, you have to be able to understand that some nights it’s not going to go for you … but you have to be able to do it again the next time. So, you have to have that short-term memory.”
Durant has had one of those moments, too, in these playoffs. He was determined to shoot a 3-pointer that could have won Game 4 against Houston, but couldn’t get open and instead gave the ball up. Jackson missed a runner and Serge Ibaka couldn’t convert the putback as the Thunder lost by two.
“The smaller fraternity of guys that are elite, special, greatest ever is in those situations, they can get the shot that they want. No matter what the defense does, they are going to get to the spot on the floor they want to get to,” Fisher said.
“I’ve seen Shaq do it, I’ve seen Kobe (Bryant) do it, I’ve seen great guys do that. I think for Kevin, he’s done it already but I think that’s an area where, as he continues to learn how to get the shot he wants every time, he’s going to be even more difficult to guard for opponents.”