Game 5 of a historic Western Conference first-round series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies played out in a fashion similar to how each of the last four games have played out.
Team takes double-digit lead. Team loses double-digit lead. Team comes back to win game in overtime.
That was the script for each of Memphis’ three victories in the series in Games 2, 3 and 5, and it was the script Oklahoma City followed in its Game 4 win at the FedExForum.
The Thunder came back from a 20-point deficit Tuesday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, but the Thunder did it with Kevin Durant going more than six minutes without attempting a shot down the stretch in the fourth quarter.
Durant hit a 3-pointer with 6:46 remaining that put the Thunder up 79-78, Oklahoma City’s first lead of the night.
But his next shot was a missed 3-pointer with 33.9 seconds remaining and the Thunder down 89-88.
Tony Allen missed the second of two free throws with 30 seconds left, the Grizzlies got an offensive rebound from Tayshaun Prince and then turned the ball over with 6.9 seconds left. Russell Westbrook’s steal and dunk with four seconds to go sent the game to overtime—an NBA-record fourth consecutive overtime game in the series.
Say what you want to about official Joey Crawford icing Durant at the foul line with 27.5 seconds left in overtime—and you could say plenty—but Durant is acknowledged as one of the very best free throw shooters in the league and it’s hard to make excuses for a 90 percent foul shooter missing a potential game-tying free throw with 27.5 seconds left.
But the bigger mystery is how the Thunder could go more than six minutes in the fourth quarter of a tight playoff game without their MVP front-runner getting off a single shot.
Here are the Thunder’s possessions after Durant’s go-ahead 3-ball with 6:46 left:
- Westbrook turnover.
- Derek Fisher missed 3-pointer, Caron Butler offensive rebound, Westbrook missed 3-pointer, Fisher offensive rebound, Westbrook missed 18-footer, Serge Ibaka loose ball foul.
- Butler missed 3-pointer.
- Westbrook driving layup and free throw.
- Westbrook missed 3-pointer.
- Reggie Jackson missed runner in the lane.
- Butler 3-pointer and free throw.
- Westbrook two free throws.
- Butler missed 3-pointer.
- Durant turnover.
- Durant missed 3-pointer (33.9 seconds left), Jackson offensive rebound, Jackson turnover.
So if I look at this correctly, Westbrook was 1-for-4 with a turnover and a pair of free throws. Butler was 1-for-3. Jackson was 0-for-1. Fisher was 0-for-1.
So the Thunder went six minutes-plus, shot 2-for-9 from the floor and none of those shots belonged to Kevin Durant?
After the game coach Scott Brooks told reporters that the Thunder were trying to give Westbrook and Jackson opportunities.
“We had some plays where [Durant] has to space the floor,” Brooks said. (h/t CBSSports.com) “We were giving Reggie some opportunities. We did that the game before and we were able to get into the paint and create easy opportunities.”
OK, fine. It worked in Game 4. But based on that 2-for-9 shooting line down the stretch, the Grizzlies must have made some adjustments. But Brooks stayed with the plan.
Durant, for his part, did not call his coach a knucklehead because that’s not what Durant does.
“I wouldn’t say I wasn’t involved,” Durant said. “We seen something in the pick-and-roll and Reggie and Russ did a great job of attacking. And if they were to come off of me, I would’ve been aggressive myself. Sometimes you’ve got to be a decoy out there and I’m fine with that. Once the ball comes my way, I have to be ready and be aggressive when I touch it. If I want the ball, I’ve got to go rebound it and bring it up on the break. I trust my teammates, whatever decisions they make and I’ve just got to be better for them.”
Yes, because it absolutely makes sense that coming down the stretch of a closely contested playoff game, the most effective way for the leading scorer in the entire league to get the ball is for him to fight for a rebound and bring it up himself.
Brooks has been accused at times of over-thinking things and at other times being very slow to adjust to changing strategies in games.
This might be one of those cases where he did both simultaneously.
Because I honestly can’t think of another reason why your guy who averaged 32 points a game during the regular season is reduced to “go stand in a corner while the rest of the guys run the offense” status with a playoff game at stake.