Thunder’s Reggie Jackson’s emotional journey comes full circle in playoffs

OKLAHOMA CITY -€“ Kevin Durant found teammate Reggie Jackson after the Thunder beat Memphis in Game 4 and hugged him.

Durant offered a hug, but Jackson turned it into an embrace, the kind of emotional showing you see returning war heroes get.

When he did finally let go, Jackson looked skyward and started crying.

And it looked like Jackson might start crying again Monday afternoon. Maybe that’s what happens when you put together a game that turned heads and saved a season, all in a single night. 

"I was able to get over it after I got back to the lockerroom and showered off," Jackson said of his game Saturday where he scored 32 points and bailed out a sluggish Durant and Russell Westbrook in a performance that was as surprising as it was necessary. Intstead of falling behind 3-1, the Thunder evened the series at 2-2 and now have a pair of home games to finish off Memphis.

But here’s hoping Jackson never gets over it. Rare is the case Oklahoma City players show real, candid emotion, on and off the court.  Jackson did both – first in Memphis, then in Oklahoma City Monday. And it was glorious.

Durant is so popular, so in demand and so thoroughly interviewed his responses seem made-for-TV and staged. One of the best players in the game, Durant never backs down from the attention, but doesn’t use his talents or stardom as an opportunity to self-reveal. However, he did open up Monday.

And then there’s Westbrook. Emotional on the court, easily angered off, few understand him. When talking to his teammates, Westbrook is engaged, his mood obvious. Off the court, his responses are cliché and synthetic. He was grateful Monday.

Maybe that’s why Jackson’s organic reaction Saturday after the game, and then Monday at practice, seemed even more refreshing.

Durant is in the news the most and Westbrook certainly takes more than his fair share of criticism, but it never comes on the court, like Jackson’s does. No one on the Thunder draws more stares from Durant or sighs from coach Scott Brooks. 

And no one on the Thunder has been through more – including Westbrook – this season than Jackson, who has been moved from the bench, to the starting role and then back to the bench again while Westbrook played, was injured and then returned. Jackson’s season has been productive and passive. He’s played well and then he’s been absent, like he was the first three games of this series against Memphis, starting out 3-of-21 from the field. Jackson averaged 13 points per game and shot 44 percent from the field, but dipped when he was a starter for most of January and February, shooting a combined 41 percent those two months.

Back to Saturday. Jackson started 0-for-2 and then finished 11-of-14, made all eight of his free throws, including six in overtime, and he scored when Durant and Westbrook couldn’t.

Tears. Because of that.

"My journey so far," Jackson said of the emotion that overcame him after the game. "My life journey. Things I’ve dealt with so far. Being a Thunder player. Just some tough times. You grow up thinking of moments where you can really impact a team and take over a game and win. I’m just happy we did it together. Making shots and my teammates trusting in me."

Durant and Westbrook certainly did. For the first time this season when both have played, one of the two didn’t lead the Thunder in scoring. At no time have the two differed to Jackson. Both situations happened Saturday. 

Hugs. Because of that.

"Me and Reggie have a close relationship," Durant said, saying there was even a time after Jackson was drafted that Jackson slept on Durant’s kitchen floor. "We get on each other and almost go to blows sometimes, but I’m here for him when he needs me and he’s there for me. We can talk through anything. That hug symbolizes our relationship. It was great to celebrate that moment to know how big it was, not just for him but our team and city. That was the biggest stage for him. He preformed well."

We may never see anything like it again. Oh, sure, Jackson will have big games and big moments, but the likelihood of it happening when both Durant and Westbrook struggle to the level they did Saturday is quite low. That sort of thing hasn’t happened.

Appreciate Reggie Jackson’s moment Saturday during the game and after and then again on Monday when his eyes watered while talking about this season, his struggles and success. We may never see anything like that again, either.

"It was an emotional moment for me," Jackson said. "Hopefully one of many to come, and I enjoyed it so much."

What did you think about Reggie Jackson’s game? Tell me on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK