OKLAHOMA CITY – Down two points, Kevin Durant got another good look. Kind of like he did in Game 1, but this time his 3-pointer on a designed play out of the timeout missed.
Then less than a minute later and with the Thunder trailing by four, Durant tripped and fell and lost the ball. He missed another 3-pointer on the next possession, and for the first time in what has to seem like forever – but really about two games – Memphis figured out a way to make Durant look ordinary.
Certainly not easy to do. It hadn’t been done so far in these playoffs and didn’t happen Sunday when Durant won Game 1 with a 19-foot running jumper in the closing seconds.
Sure, Durant was sensational for all but the final two-plus minutes Tuesday night, but Memphis won this game in Oklahoma City 99-93 because the Grizzlies made everyone else in an OKC uniform look pretty average.
Which is exactly the way Memphis needs to play to win this series, now tied at a game apiece heading back to Tennessee for Saturday’s Game 3.
Let Durant go crazy, which he did – 36 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists in 42 minutes – and then make sure no one else makes a big difference.
Which they didn’t.
Durant was great and Derek Fisher scored 19 points, but Serge Ibaka was good for just 11 in 37 minutes and Kevin Martin slid back into the funk he was in for all but the past two games. Martin was just 2-of-11 shooting for six points. Kendrick Perkins was a non-factor offensively, as usual, and the usually reliable Nick Collison had no points, no rebounds, six fouls and four turnovers in 15 minutes. Starters Reggie Jackson and Thabo Sefolosha were a combined 5 for 12 for 17 points.
Wanna beat the Thunder? Make Oklahoma City put it all on Durant, because eventually no matter how much he says he can handle it, the load gets heavier than a guilty conscience.
“I can carry as much as coach needs me to carry,” Durant said. “I made those shots last game, I missed them this game. I’m going to continue to be aggressive and I have confidence in myself. Of course, everyone is going to panic because we lost the game.”
No one’s panicking, especially in Memphis, because the Grizzlies had to know this was going to be the case. The Thunder lost in spite of Durant, yet the Grizzlies will be successful if the series continues on this pattern.
“Durant was superb,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “We knew we had to take away some other people. Except for (Derek) Fisher in the first half, we did pretty much that.”
Fisher scoring 19 points Tuesday and playing well the past few games is fool’s gold. The Thunder certainly don’t believe him to be a true scoring option. And now with Russell Westbrook out of the playoffs with a knee injury, Oklahoma City is exposed and vulnerable more than any other time in the past two seasons. So, yeah, Memphis can probably live with Fisher scoring, especially knowing the Thunder don’t have a viable, consistent second scorer.
So, while Durant was great, Memphis got a sensational all-around effort from point guard Mike Conley (26 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists) and double-figure scoring from Zach Randolph, Tony Allen and Marc Gasol.
Durant got loose, but Memphis turned 21 OKC turnovers into 29 points and outrebounded the Thunder by eight, while taking 16 more shots from the field.
Doesn’t matter how good Durant is if the Grizzlies can get that kind of team production.
“The guy is a prolific scorer,” said Allen, the Memphis defensive whiz who stood down Durant in the final minutes. We were going to live with whatever he was going to do.”
What he did was go wild, and then fizzle out. Bound to happen when you play 42 minutes after playing 44 in Game 1. Too much on Durant might just be a great thing for Memphis.
“I mean, what are we going to do?” Collison said of whether Durant had too much of a burden in the final minutes.
Scott Brooks decided to talk defense, which is understandable, considering he had to put the blame somewhere.
“We got to get back to making sure we box them out. The turnovers. We gave up 29 points. We do a better job in those two areas, we’re still in the game,” Brooks said, making sure to avoid any sort of confrontational response to whether his team got enough help from others.
Durant is averaging 32.9 points in the playoffs. He’s playing more than 42 minutes. Both of those numbers are up from his regular-season averages.
And, yeah, he’s good enough to win games on his own. Looks like he’s going to have to, which is exactly what the the Grizzlies are hoping he tries to do.