“After Russell went down, we were a little messed up in the head. But we stuck together.”
As he stood there still clutching the basketball, that’s what Kevin Durant told Lesley McCaslin after the Thunder somehow survived in Toronto, 119-118. It was on those skinny shoulders of Durant that the Thunder pulled it off, with him capping his 51-12-7 performance by walking into a 3 over Amir Johnson with 1.7 seconds left.
The game was so long, so difficult, so draining that it took a few minutes to come down off the high of Durant’s game-winner to remember oh yeah, Russell Westbrook got hurt. On one hand, the resilience, the determination, the perseverance of the Thunder is to be admired as they, as Durant said, had to find themselves as they wondered what the status of Westbrook was. On the other, the Thunder may have beaten the Raptors on an incredible shot by Durant, but lost their season in the long run if Westbrook is indeed severely injured. A euphoric moment with a caveat. The worst.
But let’s put Westbrook’s situation on hold for a minute and focus on the Thunder tonight, specifically with what happened those last few minutes of regulation and in both overtimes. I honestly can’t even really remember it all. I literally had to go back to the play-by-play to look. Says here it was 96-93 after Durant made 3 with 57 seconds left. Oh yeah, Serge Ibaka muscled in an offensive rebound, kicked out to Caron Butler who made an extra pass to the Reaper who splashed from deep. The Raptors tied it up at 96-96 with 17 seconds left, to which we all knew what would happen next — Derek Fisher would take an off balance desperation jumper after the buzzer had sounded. That’s what somehow happened, and off to overtime we went.
The Thunder executed well, controlling the extra frame under Fisher got caught on a screen and Kyle Lowry tied things back up at 107-107 with 7.4 seconds left. After Durant was trapped, Jeremy Lamb rimmed out a deep 3 and off to double-overtime we went.
That’s where things got weird.
The Thunder trailed 118-110 with 49 seconds left, cuing up the Scott Brooks/Derek Fisher gripes in full. Meanwhile, Durant canned a 3 to cut it to five. A great defensive possession forced a shot clock violation and OKC had it back with 22 seconds left. Fisher, who had been a walking facepalm the entire game, did the kind of thing he’s wont to do, drilling a wild, contested 3 with 15 seconds left — 118-116. Lamb got his hand on the inbound pass and Durant scooped it up heading to the rim. John Salmons stripped/fouled him, and the Raptors survived, it seemed. But Salmons missed both free throws, opening the door for the Reaper to steal Toronto’s soul.
It’s honestly amazed me how so many have tried to keep the widening gap of the MVP race close the last few weeks, saying Durant has a “slight edge.” Look at the complete picture, look at the numbers, look at the advanced numbers, look at the tape, look at the game logs. This thing has been done since the start of March. While people drooled over LeBron’s 61-point explosion, Durant has constantly shown up every night with heroic lines, putting up game after game of spectacular play.
That’s the thing with KD’s Heisman moment tonight. It wasn’t some blip on the radar, something to imprison us all in a moment and make us tweet and say emotional things. He’s been doing this all effing year. With Westbrook, without him. Doesn’t matter. Durant is always up for the challenge and consistently puts in an inspiring shift. And that kind of stuff is what can mask coaching errors, injuries or whatever. One touch of magic from Durant and it’s all put away. He’s that good.
But the bigger picture is what’s coming back into focus as we come down from Durant’s shot. With a virtuoso performance, he very may have won the MVP tonight. But the Thunder may have lost their season. We’ll have to wait and see.
- On Westbrook: The team is calling it a right knee sprain. He’ll be re-evaluated tomorrow and will likely have an MRI to either confirm that or diagnose him with whatever else. Fingers held, breath crossed.
- Here’s video of the play. It’s scary because it’s almost identical contact that he took from Beverley. Knee-to-knee, and Westbrook’s collapses in.
- Bit of positive from Darnell Mayberry: “Russell Westbrook was in great spirits after the game. Left the arena walking just fine. No brace. No crutches. Doesn’t expect to miss time.”
- Still: We’ll have to wait until official word comes down. He also played the entire second half of a playoff game on a torn meniscus and walked out of the arena just fine that night saying he was good.
- A note about Westbrook’s “knee sprain”: That’s often a blanket diagnosis for a knee injury from a team while they wait to evaluate something more. It’s not really good news, nor necessarily bad. It’s just a preliminary thing.
- Brooks was put in difficult position tonight first with Westbrook’s injury, then with Roberson fouling out in just 14 minutes, then with Butler fouling out in the first overtime. But man, he did not handle things well regardless of the excuse. Though again, that’s what Durant does for you. He covers up the curious choices.
- Look, Derek Fisher has been great this season. He’s hit 3s, played good defense and obviously been a great presence in the locker room. But, we’re starting to reach that saturation level of him where things start going downhill. It’s like when you’re playing Madden and you have a favorite play you run and it works a lot, but you run it so much that it has no chance of sustaining its success rate. Each time you pick it you’re thinking, “One more time maybe?” Scott Brooks has gone to Fisher too many times. Eventually, he was going to stop working.
- But of course, after I wrote all that, Fisher hit a huge 3 in double-overtime to give OKC a chance. I am so confused. The play worked again.
- Reggie Jackson played a tremendous game. He had his first career double-double with 25 points and 12 rebounds, plus three assists. After Westbrook went out, the Thunder really locked themselves into a Durant-Jackson offense, with the two interchanging between creating and scoring. It only worked because Jackson played so well.
- Critical, now overlooked play in the first overtime was Durant’s block on Johnson in the post. He stood him up, and fed his shot right back from whence it came. But KD’s just a scorer, you know. Can’t play D.
- Durant’s second half and overtimes: 38 points on 12-20 shooting.
- The Thunder’s play at the end of regulation was embarrassing. But it’s one that’s worked before. It was the same one OKC ran when KD beat the Hawks. It worked fantastically there, but on this one, Fisher tried to flop for a call on his screen, and everything blew up right there. It allowed the Raps to double KD on his catch, and he had to dump to Fisher who was picking himself up off the court. Disaster.
- Already had a few Thunder fans tweet me wondering if Lowry is to be blamed for Westbrook’s injury. Come on people. Completely accidental. You sound insane if you’re wondering that.
- I couldn’t believe the Raptors would use Amir Johnson on KD, but what really surprised me was how well it worked. Johnson’s size and length made it tough for Durant to shoot over the top, and though KD could beat him off the dribble, once help came, KD had to make a tough pass.
- Jeremy Lamb was about to pick up his first DNP of the season, but then Butler fouled out. A night after getting 26 minutes against the Cavs. Interesting.
- Butler in 36 minutes: 1-9, four points. He did have five steals, though. That’s me looking for some kind of positive as I try not to overreact and wonder if his signing is going to completely backfire in OKC’s face.
- I’m not sure I’ve ever wanted a shot to go in as much as Lamb’s 3 at the end of the first overtime.
- Fisher and Butler tonight: 51 minutes, 4-18 shooting, 12 points.
- Smart choice by Brooks at the end of the second OT putting Thabeet in to guard the ball.
- The play the Raptors ran with 1.7 seconds left was eerily similar to Andre Iguodala’s game-winner. I was preparing myself for that kind of heartbreak the second KD hit his. DeRozan’s shot even looked on line before airballing.
- I wanted to GIF that amazing Thunder bench reaction that featured looks of disbelief from Adams and Collison, but some dude was holding a sign up right in the middle of it. Best moment of my life turned to the worst moment in an instant.
- To start the fourth quarter, with everyone in the world on pins and needles waiting for an update on Westbrook’s status, Brian Davis goes, “Let’s go to Lesley McCaslin who has an update……. on the Thunder’s defense. What do you have Lesley?” Someone needs to slap him for that one.
- Why do players still commit clear path fouls? Bad habit? Stupidity?
- Durant picked up his 15th technical foul of the season. One more and he receives a one-game suspension.
- Two things: 1) A suspension doesn’t end Durant’s 25-point streak and 2) technicals don’t carry over to the postseason.
- I’ll never forget the moment Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka tried to run a fast break together. It’s my favorite and least favorite play of the season.
- Grant Long said tonight Westbrook doesn’t complain to officials. No, he just holds his face and glares at them for three possessions.
- That Durant stepback to end the first quarter. Lawwwwwwd.
- LeBron tonight: 15 points on 7-14 shooting. The last time Durant had that many or less in a game? Nov. 1. #MVPFacebookStatus
Next up: Home on Monday against the Nuggets