Reggie Jackson steps up when Thunder need him most
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – For the better part of four seasons, the Thunder have been searching for a third piece.
You know, someone to complement Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
And for the better part of four seasons, when it comes to Oklahoma City’s basketball team, it’s been Kevin Durant, it’s been Russell Westbrook and past that, it’s been, "Not exactly."
What we saw Saturday was something totally different, so hard to fathom and harder to wrap your mind around.
What we saw Saturday in Game Four in Memphis, as close to a panic situation as the Thunder have been in this season, was a combination of shock and awful.
For the first time this season, Durant and Westbrook were terrible and that third party, inconsistent as it might be, bailed out the duo that’s gotten the Thunder to the NBA Finals and beyond.
Durant and Westbrook played scared, sluggish and sloppy. Reggie Jackson played YOLO.
First, Jackson outscored OKC’s Westbrook and Durant, and then he outscored the Grizzlies. Because of it, the Thunder have tied their best-of-seven series with the Grizzlies at 2-2 after a 92-89 overtime win Saturday night.
"I was just trying to attack the basket," Jackson said to ESPN after the game. "Just trusting myself.
Jackson didn’t mention a word about saving the season, but that’s what it likely would have been had the Thunder lost this one.
Durant and Westbrook went a combined 11-of-45 from the floor for 30 points. Jackson was 11-of-16 from the floor for 32 points.
The Thunder offense, so good for so long, led by the scoring champ (Durant) and the most-explosive point guard in the game (Westbrook) were unrecognizable. Durant came in averaging 33 points per game in this series, but the 15 points he scored Saturday was his lowest output since Dec. 21.
Meanwhile, Westbrook was not much better. He had averaged 27.3 points in this series, but had seven turnovers and only 15 points.
"It wasn’t that frustrating," Westbrook said.
"Shots weren’t falling," Durant said. "Just get back to the drawing board and Russell will do the same thing."
For the first time this season when both have played, neither led the team in scoring. And for the first time since we can all remember, the two openly and gladly differed to Jackson when the game mattered most.
"Reggie played a great game," Durant said. "We saw what we had in Reggie. We gave him the ball. We kept em honest, but Reggie did a great job of driving and attacking. He did a great job of figuring it out."
Jackson outscored the Grizzlies 13-9 in the final minute of regulation and overtime. The 32 points was a career-high.
"They allowed me to go out there and play free," Jackson said.
Not bad for a guy who came into the game Saturday shooting 3-of-19 in the series and scored just 15 points. He missed his first two shots Saturday but had 15 points by the end of the third quarter.
Down five points with 59 seconds left in regulation, the Thunder offense broke down, no one was open, so Jackson took and made a 26-foot, 3-pointer. After a Durant steal, Jackson made a 9-foot runner in the lane.
To overtime. Jackson made all six of his free throws, four coming in the last 12 seconds, made a 12-foot jumper, grabbed a defensive rebound, took the ball up the court and took all the pressure and weight off of Westbrook and Durant.
So much of the Thunder’s issues this season have come on the defensive end, but Saturday in Memphis, the defense was good, for the most part. Memphis had just 35 points at halftime and only 52 points after three quarters. Instead, it was the offense, Durant and Westbrook, that was lost.
Hard to believe Durant and Westbrook will combine for another game quite like Saturday’s, but it would even harder to think Jackson could do more than he did when just about everybody else did so little.