Hang on, I’m going to need a minute. Well, probably more than a minute. I might need a day. Or two.
As Kevin Durant stood dribbling the ball alone at the top of the key and the clock winding down in Game 4, you could see it coming. He wanted the pull-up. He lives for it and he knows the consequences that come with missing it. Clank it, and he’s going to hear the chatter. Didn’t care though. Didn’t hesitate. KD had the burden of Game 4 on his back, had the shot he wanted and was willing to take it and deal with whatever came next.
“It left my hand, I was thinking if this doesn’t go in, it’s going to be a terrible shot. They’re going to criticize me a lot,” Durant said.
That’s what came next. Nobody’s going to be griping, criticizing or whining about that 3. Because it’s bringing a 3-1 lead back to Oklahoma City.
It was so close to not happening too. The Thunder had possession with 47 seconds and the game tied. As Westbrook started to make a move, he slipped on the court for the 400th time in the game, lost the ball and the Lakers took over with a chance to take control. Instead, Pau Gasol threw a bad pass as one of KD’s go-go-gadget arms extended out to steal it. And then it was time for the killing.
I could go ahead and spend 200 words trying to describe how mentally tough this young group is and how much they’ve grown. But we’re moving past that stuff for now. It’s just the identity of this team. Down seven, down 10, down 13 in the second half, the Thunder weren’t backing down. For the first time I can really ever remember, with OKC sputtering and hanging on to the game by a thread late in the third quarter, I actually muttered, “They’re winning this game.” I can’t ever think of a time I actually felt confident a comeback was coming. Most times, you try and stay pessimistic so as to not set yourself up for the pain of disappointment. But you have to believe in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Because they’re going to give you a shot. They just will.
The mountain to climb for the Thunder in Game 4 was seven. They couldn’t climb past it. They trailed by seven with 10:40 left in the second quarter, and couldn’t get any closer. It was frustrating, but OKC just did what it could to hold its head above water. Stay in the game, give your closers a shot at it. Finally, the run came. The Thunder were down 13 with 8:02 and then Derek Fisher hit a 3. KD hit some free throws. Westbrook scored nine straight. Down to four. And really, once it was there, you knew the Lakers started feeling it.
The Thunder outscored the Lakers 32-20 in the fourth, corrected the misdeeds of the past 42 minutes, started defending, started playing. Kobe, who played one of his finer playoff games in years, went 2-10 in the fourth quarter. And it happened largely after Durant took the defensive assignment over. Kobe hit an absolute banana sandwich baseline jumper over James Harden and Scott Brooks made the switch. Durant’s length took away Kobe’s jumper and it was just a matter of scoring enough points and grabbing enough rebounds.
This series has been played on needle point for three straight games. Three games that could’ve swung either way. It could’ve been a sweep. But it also could be 3-1 the Lakers’ way. That’s postseason basketball. It’s what I’ve written about a lot this year. Big games are decided by moments. Either you’re the one making the play, coming up with the rebound, the loose ball, making the break happen, hitting the shot, sinking the free throws, or you’re not. The slimmest of margins separates these type of games and the Thunder have got something in them where they create The Moment. It’s special, intangible.
But the deed isn’t done quite yet. Kobe Bryant isn’t eliminated until he’s eliminated. All signs point to Oklahoma City, but it’s time to finish. The Thunder have done their job, made their plays. They’ve closed out games. Now close out the series.
- On a night where the Thunder were murdered on the offensive glass (18 offensive boards for LA), it was a massive putback from Perk that was huge for OKC. Big time play.
- KD reaps the glory of this one, but Westbrook was unreal. He broke loose, hitting his midrange jumper, attacking like a wild dog and playing with that beautiful restrained but reckless abandon that makes him special. He went for 37 on 15-26, turned the ball over only once, had five assists and played the guttiest 24 minutes of basketball I’ve ever seen from him in the second half.
- Russell Westbrook has three turnovers in this series. THREE.
- And just seven total for the Thunder tonight. Possessions are valuable.
- Serge Ibaka played a really nice game, but he was downright awful on the defensive glass. He didn’t record a single defensive rebound. That’s pathetic, to be frank.
- KD finished with 13 boards to go with his 31. Taking responsibility and picking up slack.
- KD missed two crucial free throws late in the game with OKC down two, and it brought in flashes of LeBron’s misses against the Pacers in Game 2. But here’s your difference: Next possession, Durant hits a baseline jumper to tie the game. Then Perk tips a rebound. And then Durant ices it with the 3. I don’t care who the better player is, LeBron or KD, but there’s just something different about the two. To me, it’s obvious. I don’t know where KD’s career goes, if he’ll ever win a title or if LeBron will take 10 straight MVPs. But at this current moment, Kevin Durant simply has whatever it is inside that makes him want the weight of a game on his back. LeBron, for all his greatness, seems to run from it. Durant runs to it.
- Don’t think anyone’s going to be griping about Westbrook taking eight more shots than KD tonight. And how good are those two working off each other right now? Westbrook was the player of the game, carrying OKC, hitting shots and making plays. But he had no problem stepping aside as KD carried the Thunder over the finish line. There’s a special chemistry between those two.
- God’s obviously a Thunder fan. He celebrated this win by busting out a pretty good thunderstorm in OKC just about 15 minutes after Durant dropped that winner.
- Harden couldn’t find room to do anything in this game. Andrew Bynum was excellent in protecting the rim and challenging everything. Harden went only 2-11 from the floor and scored 12 points. For the series, he’s only 4-18 from 3. That needs to improve going forward.
- Westbrook’s postgame outfit was… something. But then again, if you drop 37 and turn it over only once, you can wear whatever you damn well please. Show up naked for all I care.
- On the second night of a back-to-back, Scott Brooks didn’t hold back on the minutes. KD went 46. Westbrook 43. Other than Harden, the four other bench players played only a total of 33 minutes.
- Kobe said after the game Pau Gasol needs to be more “assertive.” I agree, but then again, where are the opportunities for Gasol that’s he actively turning down? Every catch he has is outside the paint or in the high post.
- Westbrook slipped on the floor at the end of the first half and appeared to hurt his hip. He stayed down for a while but was able to walk to the locker room. And as Westbrook is a cyborg, he started the second half and played an absolutely astounding 24 minutes of basketball after that.
- Bynum looked scary dominant early on, but the Thunder were able to slow him down late. Perk fronted again, OKC bottled up inside and challenged well. Perk deserves so much credit in this series. He’s made his money here. Earned every penny to me.
Next up: Game 5 Monday in OKC.