The Oklahoma Thunder had a rough ending to last season. Despite earning the Western Conference’s top seed, they were bounced in the second round of the playoffs by the defensive-minded Memphis Grizzlies. Sure, Russell Westbrook was out with an injury, but it still didn’t feel good losing the series 4-1, despite having home court advantage.
Taking all of this into account, the Thunder got some sweet revenge by polishing off the Grizzlies in Game 7 of their first-round series. And who was leading the charge? None other than Kevin Durant.
The team’s superstar showed up when everything was on the line as he scored 33 points and delivered knockout blow after knockout blow in the 120-109 victory. Oh, and might we add that he nailed all five of his three-point attempts.
This was definitely a boost for a guy who’d taken so much criticism earlier in the series. And to be fair, the criticism wasn’t totally unwarranted as Durant was shooting pretty poorly and being face guarded by Tony Allen. Yes, the points were there, but his shot volume was also sky high. After the first six games, he was just 61-of-148 from the field and 12-of-48 from the three-point line (25%). An Oklahoma city newspaper headline was quick to dub him “Mr. Unreliable.”
However, “The Second Coming” rebounded to go 12-for-18 in Game 7, with the aforementioned five three’s. “I got out of my own way,” Durant said. “I was thinking too much. I was worrying about what [the media] was saying. I was worrying about what shots I was going to shoot throughout the game.”
In the end, it wasn’t his shot or showing up Allen that propelled Durant to an exceptional performance in the deciding game. Instead, as Thunder point guard Derek Fisher points out, it was showing up for his teammates. “Kevin wasn’t worried about getting his shot, or his points, he was worried about letting the guys in the locker room down,” Fisher said. “For him, that was the hardest part. He felt like he was letting guys down as the franchise player, as the leader. Every great player goes through it at some point, all of them. There starts to be some doubt. There starts to be criticism all around you. There’s second-guessing. They all do – and Kevin worked his way right out of it.”
As Durant showed during this series, he doesn’t let all of the talk or previous struggles keep him from performing when everything’s on the line. So what if a paper from his own city dubs him Mr. Unreliable or he’s missing countless shots from downtown. That said, anybody who’s betting on Oklahoma City to win, or just engaging in live wagering on Durant’s play, can definitely take comfort in knowing that they’re picking a winner.
As for their next challenge, they take on the emotional Clippers, who topped the Golden State Warriors in a hard-fought series that was marred by owner Donald Sterling’s racist comments. Much like the Thunder, L.A. boasts a very talented team. And this will be a high-scoring affair since Oklahoma averages 106.2 PPG while the Clippers pour in 107.9 PPG. One more similarity between these teams is that they feature some top-flight stars, with the Thunder having the Durant/Westbrook duo and L.A. featuring the Chris Paul/Blake Griffin combo.
The key difference could be defense, which Oklahoma City plays better than L.A. And while both of these squads are exiting emotional series, the weary Clippers battled through adversity created by Sterling and an overly physical series with Golden State. This is a close one to call, but when you also throw home court into the equation, we like the Thunder in seven games.