Thunder back to familiar form in Game 1 win over Grizzlies

OKLAHOMA CITY — Folks around here worry about Russell Westbrook, his knees, his temper and his overall mood. 

A lot.

Aside from cellphone battery life, nothing causes more worry, and of course, Westbrook was the topic of conversation once again Saturday night in Game 1 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs against Memphis when he sat for a longer-than-usual stint in the third quarter and was somewhat injured in the second, taking a shot to the stomach.

Settle down. He’s fine. Coach Scott Brooks said so, and so did Westbrook. No biggie. 

Folks around here get worked up about the Thunder’s quick start and then melted down after an all-timer of a third-quarter slump where the Thunder gave up 31 points and only scored 13 Saturday night against Memphis in Game 1 of the Western Conference playoffs.

Settle down. Everything is fine. The Thunder won, 100-86.

It’s been a season where Westbrook has played and sat, where the Thunder have beaten Miami and then lost to the New Orleans Pelicans. 

There’s been good and bad, sometimes even in the very same game, like there was Saturday in the Game 1 win against Memphis in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

But here’s what you count on in Oklahoma City: Same-colored shirts for the fans, and Kevin Durant, just like you knew you could in the Thunder’s first-round playoff win over Memphis.

Westbrook was in and out of the game. The Thunder started fast and finished quick after fading in the third quarter, but Durant was steady.

Just like he’s been all season on the way to what’s about to become his MVP season.

A year ago, Durant faltered in the second round of the playoffs against these Grizzlies, losing energy late in the five-game series that featured no Westbrook.

Saturday, Durant scored nine points in the first quarter, finished with 13 in the fourth quarter and while the world was crashing down inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, thanks to the Thunder kicking away nearly all of it’s 25-point lead, Durant played 43 minutes and wound up with 33 points, eight rebounds and seven assists , shooting 13-of-25.

Since the Thunder began play in Oklahoma City, Durant is the surest thing in town outside a MAPS vote. You didn’t need this season to realize it, although the evidence is overwhelming and well-documented, highlighted by a 41-consecutive game streak where he scored 25 or more points.

Since the Thunder began this playoff run that started in 2010 with a first-round loss to the Lakers, a stop in the NBA Finals as well as a trip to the Western Conference Finals, it’s been Durant and then everybody else. He needs Westbrook – last season’s playoff melt proves that. He needs another scorer – this season proved that as Westbrook sat 26 games in a row with an injured knee.

"I just wanted to be aggressive," Durant said after the game. "I just try to stick to what I do and help my teammates more."

He did it against Detroit in the last game of the regular season when the Thunder desperately wanted to rest their starters and stars, but instead wound up running them out there the length of the game as they spent the fourth quarter in a mad rush to overtake the Pistons and win the No. 2 seed. Durant played 45 minutes and scored 42 points, including the game-winning dunk in the closing seconds.

There was no "one shining moment" Saturday for Durant, but there was a fourth quarter where he went five-of-six from the field, made a 3-pointer, both his free throws, had a steal and two assists. 

"We just try to focus on us and not worry about what other teams do," Durant said.

So much of the focus gets shifted to what kind of defense the Thunder are playing, or how healthy Westbrook is. There’s plenty of talk about Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka.

Ibaka was good Saturday, going six-of-eight from the field, but he had just two shots through three quarters. Westbrook was 8-of-19, had his moments of energy and the random bursts that make him so special. Nick Collison was 1-for-6. Reggie Jackson was 1-for-5. People are talking about Caron Butler’s highlight dunk, but he was just 3-for-7. 

There’s only one conversation that matters after the Thunder won Game 1 of the Western Conference playoffs against Memphis. 

It’s all about Durant.

Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK