All Kevin Durant could do was smile.
After hitting a stupidly tough off balance jumper over Rudy Gay as the shot clock expired to essential ice Memphis, Durant backpedaled down the floor shaking his head and smiling. Maybe he thought it was a little lucky or something. But he’s like Harvey Dent. He makes his own luck. He’s just good.
Durant scored the Thunder’s final 10 points, including seven in the last 50 seconds. A 3 right over the top of Rudy Gay with 53 seconds left put the Thunder up 97-94. Next trip down, KD hit the tough free throw line jumper around Gay. Then some free throws to seal the deal. The crowd chanting “M-V-P” as he sank them and really for the first time, I thought, “It fits.”
Some nights, that guy is goes from disgustingly nasty good to swine flu worldwide epidemic filthy sick good. You’re sitting there watching him and have to stop and say, “Is this dude real life?”
As is the usual, it didn’t come easy though. I think the Grizzlies could substitute a D-League roster in and it would come down to some key fourth quarter possessions. The game had the look of one the Thunder would never be able to fully climb out of a hole. Each small spurt was met with Memphis snuffing it out. The Thunder went on a little run to start the fourth, had the crowd roaring, lead down to four… and Tony Allen hits a 3. Then there’s a big James Harden 3 to cut it to two, crowd roaring… O.J. Mayo draws a foul and hits one of two free throws.
“We knew we had to pick it up,” Harden said. “We didn’t play well for three quarters, especially on the defensive end so we had to turn our intensity up. I got some shots to fall. We got a lot of stops, especially in the fourth which was key.”
It was Harden who led a 15-4 push that finally pushed OKC to a lead. He scored 10 points early in the fourth including back-to-back 3s in O.J. Mayo’s face, the second tying the game at 81-81.
“That is what I do. I pick my spots. I play off Kevin and Russell, you know they make plays,” Harden said.
Finally the Thunder took the lead 82-81 on a Nick Collison free throw. Daequan Cook dropped a big 2-pointer the next possession and Russell Westbrook drilled his nightly fourth quarter 3. The Thunder were finishing the Grizzlies by getting stops, getting rebounds and by hitting big shots.
Scott Brooks went small, as he usually does against Memphis, in the middle of the fourth with Collison playing the 5 and KD at the 4. The Grizzlies really just don’t have a way to match that without Zach Randolph to create a mismatch. Durant still gets to guard Rudy Gay and Gay isn’t nearly the stretch 4 Durant is. It’s a simple adjustment Brooks likes to make, but it’s one that’s turning out to be consistently effective.
I was all prepared to write a recap saying this way the worst loss of the season, even worse that the one in Washington. Coming home from a road trip to an amped crowd, rested, against a team that played the night before, the Thunder had to take care of the Grizzlies. They eventually did, but it just took Kid Clutch from OKC to get it done.
- Someone asked me to explain how ugly the first half was. I said it looked like a Kendrick Perkins jumper. The Thunder were just flat and unfocused. Stupid turnovers, horrible execution and really weak defense at times. OKC was lucky Memphis didn’t stretch out to a 15-point lead heading to halftime. The Thunder had only one assist in the first quarter and six at halftime. The second half was obviously much better with the Thunder finishing with 16 assists.
- Durant gets the glory, but it was Harden that gave KD a chance at all to play hero. Kind of becoming a theme with this team. Someone picks the Thunder up and gets it to KD Time. Harden finished with 24 points and hit 4-6 from 3 and provided OKC a much-needed spark.
- Harden was killing the Grizzlies and O.J. Mayo so badly that when Westbrook checked back in, Tony Allen switched on to Harden. Allen had been guarding Westbrook the entire game, but Lionel Hollins clearly feared the beard more.
- KD had 23 points and 10 rebounds… in the second half. He finished with 36 and 10 for the game, plus three assists, two steals and three blocks.
- There’s no way around it, but the Grizzlies have a legit gripe about the officiating tonight. It wasn’t good all over, but you can’t ignore 24 Memphis fouls to OKC’s 16 and 33 Thunder free throws to 20 for the Grizzlies in a game that physical.
- The Thunder ran the same curl play for KD four straight times in the third quarter and wouldn’t you know it, four straight buckets. Two by KD, one by Cook (assisted by KD) and a dunk by Ibaka (assisted by KD). By my unofficial count, I think OKC ran it six times during a four-minute stretch.
- KD on his jumper over Gay where he used a pump fake: “I thought I was going to have a lane to the basket but he stayed in front. Guys always bit when I pump-fake, so I was able to get him off the ground a little bit and give him some space and I tried to shoot it good and it went it.”
- Perk picked up technical foul No. 9 after getting tangled with Marc Gasol. The officials talked about it for a solid 20 seconds before deciding to hand out the double technicals.
- Westbrook’s turnovers don’t always drive me crazy when he’s trying to create while attacking or if he forces a tough pass into a tight space, but the unforced ones are just killers. He had three quick ones in the first quarter, but only gave it away two more times the rest of the night.
- Here’s your classic Perk night: His line was five points, one rebound and one block in 28 minutes but he was really good on Marc Gasol. Yeah, I know. Gasol had 24 on 9-12 shooting. But a lot of those were just really tough shots Gasol hit. Collison was solid on Gasol too, but without Perk guarding the big Spaniard one-on-one, OKC loses this game.
- Serge Ibaka cannot catch a pass below his waist. He is catching rebounds better however, pulling in eight. But he only had three blocks in this one. Off night, I guess.
- I paid close attention to the first half rotation tonight. Harden checked in with 4:58 left in the first. He played two minutes with the starting five and didn’t score. He started the second with the entire second unit and had just two points in three minutes with them. But when Harden really seemed to get going was when the full starting five joined him on the floor in the last half of the second. He hit two 3s and appeared to settle into his game comfortable. Maybe it’s just me, but this rotation stuff is kind of fascinating.
- Westbrook was hit with a technical early in the second quarter almost got run right at halftime by ref David Jones. Westbrook thought he was fouled (shocker) on the last play of the half and was very demonstrative about it. Jones signaled at Westbrook to go to the locker room and do it quickly, otherwise he was getting the hook.
- Jones also didn’t let Ibaka smell the ball in between free throws. First time I’ve seen that happen.
- Perk, Reggie Jackson and KD went with Russ’s capri tights. If Nick Collison does it, I’m going to say it’s banned.
- Daequan Cook’s defense is way underrated. He had three blocks, including a nice one on O.J. Mayo, but he isn’t a massive drop-off from Thabo. And he does a lot of little things on the glass like getting a hand on a would-be offensive rebound and tipping it to a teammate.
- Perk absolutely dropped Mike Conley on a screen in the backcourt late in the fourth and actually stood over him for a second. I was fearful of another tech.
- Ibaka broke out his first Air Congo of the season with a dunk over Gasol. It was nice to see it.
- Nazr Mohammed checked in with two minutes left in the first quarter and got seven minutes tonight. So it looks like he hasn’t been entirely squeezed out of the rotation yet.
- KD tried something new in the post. Spun baseline on the left block and went for a lefty baby hook. He airballed it, but still, cool.
- My favorite thing about a team returning home from a long road trip is all the fresh haircuts. Even Scott Brooks got one.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night: I didn’t get one from anybody, so I’m just going to guess that he said this: “KD, swirling and twirling like a piece of coffee cake to the basket! Cut ’em up like a ham sandwich and served it to them cold!”
Next up: At San Antonio Saturday night.