Two minutes, 41 seconds left, and Kendrick Perkins puts the Thunder ahead, 90-89. Kevin Durant is cooking, Oklahoma City’s defense is swarming and after a white-knuckle back-and-forth affair, a 2-0 series lead finally appears to be within range.
Derek Fisher comes up with a steal on the Grizzlies’ next possession, 2:29 left. A big opportunity for the Thunder to put a little space between them and Memphis, to create a much, much-needed cushion. A scrambled possession results in a reckless Fisher fadeaway jumper, and apparently his deal with the devil expired, as it came up short for an airball.
The Grizzlies come back with a quality set, and Reggie Jackson gets caught helping just a beat too long, and Mike Conley makes OKC pay with a go-ahead 3, 92-90, 1:58 left. Timeout Thunder.
Scott Brooks draws up a peach of a play, and it clears KD for a clean look at a 3 from the left wing. He pumps to let his man fly by and lets loose on a shot 18,000 people are convinced is dropping through. It clangs juuuuust long, ball back to Memphis with 1:44 left. Tony Allen rebounds his own miss, there’s a replay review that takes two and a half hours, and after two Memphis 20-second timeouts, Conley splashes through a dagger jumper, 94-90, 1:04 left.
At that point, it was obvious. The Thunder would need another shot of that magic Durant crunchtime pixie dust. Because as Nick Collison said postgame, “I mean, what are we going to do?”
Reggie Jackson misses a 3, Serge Ibaka taps out a rebound and the offense resets with Durant. Big possession. KD isolates on Allen, stumbles, and loses his balance. Durant’s on his back, Memphis steals it, and that’s basically Game 2. A couple made Memphis free throws, a missed desperation 3 by KD, an Allen run-out dunk and a buzzer-beating 3 by Fisher (yay!) and the game ends, 99-93, with the Grizzlies outscoring OKC 10-3 over the final 2:41, and the only three points for the Thunder being that pointless 3 from Fisher.
If the Grizzlies feel like they let one slip in Game 1, well, then I guess we can call things even now.
The Thunder’s failure to close seems to rest on Durant’s shoulders — who played one of the most spectacular games I’ve ever seen from him — because of the late missed shots and the turnover. He had 36 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, but didn’t score the final three minutes, the period of time the game slipped away.
But it’s obvious Durant has to do everything, and while he’s entirely capable of that burden, he shouldn’t have to. For example: The Thunder absolutely labored to build a five-point lead heading to the fourth quarter. Scott Brooks saw it as an opportunity to sneak a breather for Durant to begin the fourth. But Memphis went on a 9-2 run to start the quarter, and Brooks had to bring back KD, who promptly dropped a jumper to end the Grizzly run.
Without KD, the Thunder are sort of lost. Or at least they were in Game 2. Why? Because KD’s new scoring sidekick, his helping hand, didn’t show up. Kevin Martin: six points, 2-11 shooting. He didn’t come to play. This is after he scored 50 points (25 in each) on 15-27 shooting in OKC’s last two playoff games. And not coincidentally, the Thunder won those two games. Tonight, Martin missed decent looks, forced a few bad ones and mostly drifted away. He didn’t show up. And the Thunder lost.
It’s obvious that the Thunder are restructuring themselves on the fly here, and within that, they’re trying to locate the production and pop Russell Westbrook gives them. Durant is assuming most of that slack, but it’s clear that Martin is the de facto next man up here. He’s the guy that can fill the void of Westbrook’s raw scoring production, and keep the scoreboard moving while Durant’s not. And when he does, the Thunder have that old dynamic offensive look to them.
The problem with that? Unlike Russell Westbrook, Kevin Martin doesn’t always show up. Westbrook, always shows up. He may shoot the ball poorly. He may turn it over eight times. He may make decisions that make people want to spike their remote like a football. But he always, always, always shows up. As we’ve seen throughout this postseason, Martin doesn’t. Game 5 against the Rockets at home, Martin scores three points on 1-10. And the Thunder lost. He’s a brilliant, effortless scorer that can put points up in a hurry. He’s a great player. Truly. But that competitive edge, that toughness, that spirit, that I’m-gonna-kick-your-ass mentality, he doesn’t have it. That’s not a knock on Martin. There are very few Russell Westbrook’s in the NBA. But in this spot, the Thunder need Martin to at least pretend he does. If he’s going to fill Westbrook’s scoring shoes, he has to do it every night. He can’t drift out, can’t coast, can’t have bad nights. He has to show up.
It might be as simple as that. The games Martin scores, the Thunder will win. The games he doesn’t, the Thunder don’t. Because Durant is going to produce. We’re taking him for granted, but the guy has gone to new levels of ridiculousness. He’s amazing, and he’s up to this challenge.
“I can carry as much as coach needs me to carry,” Durant said. “I made those shots last game, I missed them this game. So I’m going to continue to keep taking them.”
Consider: Durant’s only helping hand came from Derek Fisher, who scored 19 points on 6-9 shooting. The rest of the team: 13-40, 38 points. The focus on that kind of stat comes back to the absence of Westbrook, but that overlooks the fact the Thunder still possess some top tier talent. Serge Ibaka hit 5-12 shots for 11 points, which is not the worst. Westbrook’s stand-in, Reggie Jackson, scored 10 on 3-8, which is acceptable. Martin just gave them nothing.
The Thunder had a chance at this one, a chance to put the series in a 2-0 lockdown headed to Memphis. With three days off to sit on the good feels that come with a 2-0 lead, the Thunder missed an opportunity. It just means that they have to win one on the road now, and in order for that to happen, Durant has to get more help.
“Of course everybody’s going to panic because we lost the game,” Durant said. “But that’s not what we’re going to do here.”
There’s definitely no reason to panic. Despite losing, the Thunder’s plan for victory has been pretty plainly revealed. There’s a way out of this series, and the Thunder can play with Memphis. This series is going to take years off all our lives, but the Thunder are capable of winning three more. Just gotta show up.
- In Game 1, the Thunder turned it over 10 times, and allowed four second chance points to the Grizzlies. In Game 2, the Thunder turned it over 21 times and allowed 23 second chance points. That’s your game in a nutshell.
- Mike Conley was awesome. He laid an egg in Game 1 and showed up big time in Game 2.
- Reggie Jackson sort of took responsibility for the loss” “I let my guy go one assist shy of a triple-double. You don’t have to look too far why we lost tonight.” Jackson even repeated that again later in his availability. He feels like it’s on him.
- I get scapegoating, but geez, the blame being laid on Kendrick Perkins is ridiculous. He played some kind of an ugly game with some horrifically comical turnovers and some laughably pathetic missed shots. But you’re isolating on things he’s NEVER good at and using them as some kind of reason the Thunder lost. The botched rebounds were awful and terrible, but come on people, watch the game. Understand it for a second. You can’t let the things that Perk is always bad at influence whether or not his game was bad. Perk’s defense was actually quietly solid (Marc Gasol scored the bulk of his points with Perk on the bench), and his screening was great. Look, Perk played a poor game overall, but this fingerpointing at him is absurd. The Thunder lost because of 23 second chance points and 21 turnovers.
- If you’re going to focus on statlines, here’s one to chew on: Nick Collison: 15 minutes, zero points, zero rebounds, zero steals, zero blocks, one assist, four turnovers and six fouls.
- Tony Allen is getting lots of credit for supposedly locking down KD, but especially on the late turnover, it’s obvious Durant just trips over Allen’s leg. It wasn’t a great pull-the-chair move, but more KD clips Allen’s leg and stumbles. That’s it.
- And another: Durant wisely pointed out postgame that while yes, he didn’t do well in crunchtime, he missed an exceptionally clean look at that go-ahead 3. It was a great play, and well executed. KD just missed.
- Durant looked at the three days off as a positive, to watch film and practice. I figured losing this one and having to chew on it for three days would really suck, but KD doesn’t see it that way.
- This is going to sound like complaining, but it’s not: You could call a foul on Z-Bo every single possession when he battled for a rebound. It’s just his style of play. The way he grabs, pushes and chucks people is incredible. But that’s what makes him such a terrific below-the-rim offensive rebounder. He knows how to push.
- Perk really needs to adopt Tyson Chandler’s tapout rebounding move. His hands are pure stone and he can’t ever get a handle. Just swat it backcourt.
- OKC went small in the second quarter, despite the Grizzlies having Gasol and and Randolph on the floor. KD defended Gasol, Z-Bo guarded Thabo on the other end. And it worked really well. OKC didn’t really go small the rest of the game.
- Derek Fisher, playoff hero. Another stellar performance.
- Hasheem Thabeet played 13 very good minutes. He was called into action because of foul trouble, but honestly, I’d like to see more of him on Gasol. I think his length bothered him.
- It came in a losing effort, but KD’s dunk at the end of the third was something to behold.
- KD’s attitude after losses is awesome. He doesn’t seem down at all. No panic, no anxiety, no fear on his face. Just an outlook of get better, and win next time.
- Durant: “We feel confident. We can’t put our heads down. We can’t be upset with ourselves because we lost. Memphis is a really good team. We’ve got to keep going forward. I think there are some things we can correct and get better at and we’ll be fine.”
- The Thunder had literally four shots rattle in and out in the first quarter. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many in a single quarter.
- Ibaka started 0-4, pushing himself to 1-14 in the series, but made five of his next seven to finish.
- Bob Stoops was sitting courtside tonight. And he was wearing the free shirt.
- Maybe I’m being captain optimism here, but I see a whole lot of areas the Thunder can play better, and very few the Grizzlies can.
Next up: Game 3 in Memphis on Saturday.