Kevin Durant couldn't pull his Oklahoma City Thunder through to a Game 2 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, leading to a split of the first two games and Oklahoma City's loss of home-court advantage. Memphis' grit and grind won Game 2; Durant's hero ball won Game 1.
I guess the question we need to answer here is which team's method of winning games is superior?
Kevin Durant is the best Western Conference hero-baller, while Memphis is the best unit the Western Conference (and maybe the NBA) has to offer in terms of gritty, grimy basketball.
Durant is averaging 35.5 points in two games against the Grizzlies so far, along with 13 rebounds and 7.5 assists.
In five of eight playoff games, KD has scored at least 30 points but has shot above 50 percent from the floor just twice.
Nick Collison, asked if KD has to do too much in crunchtime: "I mean, what are we going to do?"— Royce Young (@dailythunder) May 8, 2013
Durant hasn't been taking a huge percentage of his team's shots down the stretch in the past two games, but the intent has been there. He attempted four of his team's seven shots in the final five minutes of Game 1 and just four of eight shots in Game 2.
That's definitely an uptick in the number of shots he takes relative to the rest of his team when comparing the earlier stages of the game (he took 53 percent of Oklahoma City's shots in the final five minutes in the past two games, compared to 22 percent of their shots throughout the season), but he is looking for his teammates.
Kevin Durant has averaged 264 dribbles per game since Russell Westbrook's injury. His season average was 134 per game (per SportVu).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 8, 2013
Looking across the aisle at Memphis' grit-and-grime style of play, it has forced the Thunder to shoot just 42 percent in the first two games of the series (63-of-150) compared to a season average of 48 percent, while holding them to a three-point shooting percentage of 35.8 (14-of-39), compared to 37.7 percent on the season.
From that, it's obvious the Grizzlies' rough defense is taking the Thunder down a peg in terms of efficiency, but they're doing it without fouling at a high rate.
Sure, 26 free-throw attempts per game is incredibly high, but for the Thunder and their foul magnets, that's right on par with what Oklahoma City has averaged throughout the season (26.7 attempts per game).
Memphis' defense has been rowdy and effective so far, but they've only out-rebounded Oklahoma City by a total of six boards in two games (the Thunder won the battle by two in Game 1, Memphis had an eight-board advantage in Game 2). In the turnover battle, however, Memphis is winning by a total of eight over two games.
So which is more powerful? The will of one, or the effort of five?
It seems we've actually already found our answer after the first two games of this series.
Kevin Durant is 4-for-4 attempting go-ahead field goals in the final 24 seconds of 4th quarter in last 2 playoffs; rest of NBA is 2-for-23.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 6, 2013
In order to win Game 1, Oklahoma City used a go-ahead jumper from Durant following a steal by Derek Fisher to eventually win the game.
Game 2 wasn't the same back-and-forth affair that Game 1 was. Memphis was up by four with more than a minute left, allowing them to cover Durant tight while leaving plenty of room for error.
At that point, Memphis knew Durant was the main option and was able to snuff him out on at least one or two possessions with excessive pressure to maintain their lead.
In other words, they either force Durant to take a bad shot or pass it off to a teammate rather than having to protect everything as they would in a single-possession game.
While it's an incredibly small sample size, it seems to make sense to trust Memphis to keep any lead more than four or five points with a minute or less left in the game.
However, given a one-possession game, or even a slight lead for the Thunder, the safe bet has to be on the Thunder.
Either way, the rest of this series is sure to be an interesting back-and-forth between basketball theories. We'll learn over the course of the next week whether hero ball or grit-and-grime comes out on top.