In the throes of Game 2, when we were all deep in them begging for stops, it felt as if the game wasn’t the Thunder’s. Jumpers weren’t falling, Durant couldn’t shake himself loose, Z-Bo was taking people out to the buffet — CiCi’s Pizza style. Food just kept coming for him. Offensively we were bad and defensively, when it mattered, we were worse. Stops were not coming. It was Memphis’ night.
But then, down five, the corner shot of destiny got dropped through the net by angels that must’ve been hanging out on Reno Ave, having given up on trying to get a table at Zio’s because there was too long of a wait and they’d refused to sit at the bar. And 1. How had he hit that? How on earth or any other planet had he hit that? It breathed air back into the lungs of The Peake and we were all reminded yet again that Kevin Durant, for all his Tony Allen driven semi-struggles this series (dude’s averaging 34 through the first two games so, you know, chill out some), is still an alien capable of miracles. He makes the free throw.
Then a foul. They only hit one. Hey, this might happen, I say to a wall. Then it does. Kendrick Perkins follows up a missed jumper with a put back and the ball seems like it’s really deciding how much it likes Perkins and if it’s enough to give him this. It decides Perk might need a make more than any other player in the league and it falls through the net at the buzzer, the edges of the backboard glinting bright red as Perkins begins to get mobbed.
If Perkins had missed that bunny of a put back, I really shudder to think what the Internet – I include myself in that bunch – would’ve done. He’s killed fairly endlessly by NBA Twitter, for good reason most times, but this would’ve set a new precedent for the world going to town on someone. It would’ve been difficult to live that down if only because people are actively looking for ways to prove how awful Perkins is on a basketball floor. The man with all the unseen intangibles, the basketball gods had finally given him something that he could point to and say, “See? See? I’m worth something somewhere that isn’t a locker room.”
It felt good to cheer for Perk after that. And not just because it was a huge shot and it meant the game was going into OT. It felt good to cheer for him because if any dude had some goodness coming his way for just continuing to play hard, it was Perk. For all his faults, effort has never been one of them. The guy works. And it was fitting that he had a moment that was only his because he worked for the position that made it so. If Steven Adams makes that shot the celebration is different. Just as loud, but less happy, less amazed. I don’t know if that makes sense.
And as you do, I thought, briefly through the commercial break, that the game was now the Thunder’s. They’d withstood several haymakers from the Grizz and just kept bouncing back and now momentum was sprinting with us. We ran with it on the beach with dogs and children and the wind behind us. We’d all be at Chelino’s soon, partying, asking for more tortillas because sleep does not come for us on this night. We go until the sun starts peaking up over Devon Tower then we walk over to the Sonic building and bang on the walls until they bring us toaster sanwiches. And have TJ Jagadowski deliver them. Him and Hasheem Thabeet. He’s not doing anything.
But the grand and perfect ending did not come. It rose up out of the ground for a brief moment and then Z-Bo hit it in the head with a shovel. What the Thunder thought was their happy fate fell back under the earth, knocked out cold by a team that is always just a little tougher than you or I remember. It was not their night. And I guess, even in the moments of jubilation post Durant and Perkins makes, it never had been. Those things were teases. Sirens serenading us all with B.B. King standards, yanking us toward rocks with Tony Allen’s face on them.
The Grizzlies are not interested in grandness and at a time in the game when it seemed as if everything was headed the Thunder’s way, the Grizz just took the game into their barbecue stained hands again. They continued to iso Randolph in the mid post just outside the right block and he was feasting, fouling out Perkins quickly once overtime had begun. It was just so coldly anti-climactic, everyone getting Men In Black light flashed all at once to forget the moment Perk had just given us all. Sometimes fairy tales aren’t in the cards.
You cannot just wound the Grizzlies and expect them to lay down. This is a team, the Grizzlies, whose neck you have to break. Then you have to shoot them in the head.
The series is a long ways from being over. The Thunder did not play particularly well on either end of the floor and they still had their chances to win the game. That is weirdly encouraging. But this is the battle that everyone knew it would be. We might as well get comfortable, this series isn’t going anywhere for awhile.