Kevin Durant’s supporting cast came alive to keep the Oklahoma City Thunder out of a perilous 0-2 hole in the Western Conference semifinals.
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Durant scored 26 points, James Harden led an outburst by Oklahoma City’s bench with 21, and the Thunder evened their series with Memphis by beating the Grizzlies 111-102 in Game 2 on Tuesday night.
After scoring just 16 points in a Game 1 loss, the Thunder’s bench tripled that amount and put Oklahoma City firmly in control with an 18-6 run to start the fourth quarter.
”It was a classic desperate team, more aggressive team,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. ”I say the desperate team usually wins, and they were the desperate team in their play, which was a sense of urgency and aggressiveness.
”They came out and attacked.”
Russell Westbrook scored 24 and his backup, Eric Maynor, added 15 for the Thunder. Oklahoma City’s bench held a 48-29 scoring edge.
”That’s what they’ve done all year, and that’s why we are in this position, because they’ve done either a good job of catching up or extending leads,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. ”I thought they were outstanding tonight.”
Mike Conley scored 24 for Memphis, which cut a 21-point, fourth-quarter deficit to six in the final minute.
Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol combined to make just five of 22 shots for 28 points – just over half their total from the opener. The interior tandem helped Memphis dominate the paint for 52 points in Game 1, but the Thunder outscored the Grizzlies 38-34 this time by deploying frequent double-teams.
The Thunder finally shook free from Memphis with the bench’s big run, featuring three 3-pointers by Maynor and seven points from Harden.
Harden hit three free throws – including one after Darrell Arthur was called for a technical for bumping him in retaliation – then turned a steal into a fast-break layup. Maynor’s third 3 gave Oklahoma City its first 20-point lead at 94-74 with 7:27 remaining, and Daequan Cook followed about a minute later with another 3 to bump the lead to 21.
The Thunder made their first four 3-pointers to start the fourth.
When Maynor and Cook finally were pulled in favor of Durant and Westbrook with just under 5 minutes left, the pair got a standing ovation.
”I expect James Harden especially and Eric Maynor to have at least one big game in the series,” Grizzlies forward Sam Young said. ”They are great players and they are in this position for a reason.
”We expect big things out of them and that’s why we have to prepare a little better and come out next game with more intensity.”
Game 3 is Saturday night in Memphis.
”It’s going to be a physical series and it’s going to be long. We didn’t think it would be easy,” Gasol said.
”We go home with a split and that’s better than 0-2.”
Conley hit two 3-pointers and converted a three-point play during a 19-5 comeback that got Memphis within 104-98 with 46 seconds left, before Westbrook and Nick Collison made a pair of free throws apiece to close it out.
”We just didn’t have enough fight in us,” Hollins said.
The Thunder lost starting power forward Serge Ibaka – who blocked the most shots in the NBA in the regular season – to an apparent right knee injury with 2:09 remaining in the game. He hobbled to the locker room after fouling Conley and crashing to the floor along the baseline.
Ibaka had been late out of the locker room at halftime after hurting his knee late in the first half, but rode a stationary bike in a tunnel before returning to the game in the third.
”When I was in the game, I was fine,” said Ibaka, who had both ice on both knees in the locker room. ”After a timeout, when I would stand up to go on the court, that’s when I would feel it.”
”We’ve got three days off,” he added, ”so I hope to be OK.”
Randolph, the star of Game 1 with a playoff career-high 34 points, made only two of his 13 shots and scored 15 points. Gasol was 3 for 9 for 13 points and hauled in 10 rebounds. Randolph had nine boards.
But neither was close to being as effective as in the opener.
”It’s a physical game. We just tried to be more focused and more physical and more aggressive, to get contact first,” Ibaka said. ”That’s what we did.”
The Grizzlies shot 44 percent and committed 16 turnovers to contribute to 17 fast-break points for Oklahoma City.
”You can’t turn the ball over and play good defense at the same time. It just doesn’t work that way,” Hollins said. ”I just thought we turned it over way too much and we settled way too much.”
Still, they’re heading home with home-court advantage after an upset in the opener and will continue their quest to become the first No. 8 seed to reach the Western Conference finals.
The Thunder got out to a 28-17 lead after the first quarter by keeping Memphis off of the offensive glass and holding Randolph and Gasol in check. The inside tandem started Game 1 going a perfect 7 for 7, but made just one of seven attempts in the first period this time.
Memphis got within 36-33 midway through the second quarter when Arthur made a hook shot after the Grizzlies’ fourth offensive rebound on a single possession, but Durant rallied Oklahoma City to restore the lead.
He followed a fallaway 16-footer along the right baseline with a steal and a fast-break layup, punctuating it with a swinging fist pump before stepping to the line to finish his three-point play. The Thunder lead reached a dozen before Conley’s 20-foot jumper in the final second made it 54-44 at halftime.
NOTES: The Grizzlies’ first offensive rebound didn’t come until Gasol grabbed one with 24 seconds left in the first quarter, with his team down 11. … After the Thunder had lost at home in Game 1, Durant watched Monday night as Chicago and the Los Angeles Lakers followed suit but didn’t make too much of the developing trend. ”I was just worried about us and how we could get better,” Durant said. … A fan, Roman Owen, hit a halfcourt shot in the break following the third quarter to win $20,000.