The Oklahoma City Thunder's superstars came to play Saturday, as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook led their squad to a decisive Game 7 triumph over the Memphis Grizzlies, 120-109, at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.
After being labeled "Mr. Unreliable" earlier in the series, Durant was dominant for the second consecutive contest, capping the Thunder's rally in front of a raucous Oklahoma City crowd by pouring in a game-high 33 points on 12-of-18 shooting.
Fox Sports' Jimmy Spencer praised Durant for his mid-range game, yet the scoring machine also was perfect in his five shots from downtown:
Durant comes off looking pretty darn good. Time to fall in love with that elbow in round 2.— Jimmy Spencer (@JimmySpencerNBA) May 4, 2014
Westbrook was also exceptional—at least mostly, aside from occasional out-of-control plays—and posted a triple-double with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 16 assists to go with seven turnovers. The dynamic point guard joined some elite company with those eye-popping numbers, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Russell Westbrook joins Rajon Rondo as the only players in NBA history with 2 Game 7 triple-doubles. (@EliasSports)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 4, 2014
Now the Thunder roll on with a lot of momentum to face the winner of another entertaining opening-round 2014 NBA playoff series featuring the Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors.
Memphis forward Zach Randolph was suspended for the game after a skirmish with Steven Adams in the previous showdown. That forced Grizzlies coach David Joerger to adjust his lineup and completely alter his team's style of play.
With a dinged-up Mike Conley manning the point and Tony Allen dealing with an eye injury, the visitors had all sorts of issues. Conley gutted out a strong performance with 20 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four steals, and was still confident—though ultimately in vain—after losing Game 6 at home 104-84 Thursday.
"Me being banged up, you're going to have to ask more out of different guys, see a lot of guys step up," said Conley, per the Associated Press. "We're still excited and confident going into tomorrow's game, regardless of injuries and how last night's game went."
The Grizzlies were able to hang around in the first half of Game 7 at least, overcoming an early 11-4 hole in which Durant hit two of his first three shots from the floor. That was possible due to Conley's steady hand and especially Marc Gasol's outstanding play.
Gasol scored 13 points and missed just two of his eight shots in the first quarter, playing in all areas of the post and fostering crisper ball movement to Memphis' more perimeter-oriented starting lineup featuring Mike Miller.
Eventually, the home team adjusted, as Gasol made just one of his next 12 attempts from the field, yet still finished with 24 points, six assists and four steals. Since he was tasked with playing far from the paint, though, he wasn't as much of a factor on the glass, which caught up to the Grizzlies in the end.
One highlight-reel block by Westbrook on Allen allowed the Thunder to begin erasing a double-digit halftime deficit, as the energizing stuff ignited the hosts:
A combination of foul trouble and a Thunder team feeding off the fans' energy and launching into all-out attack mode turned the tide of the game, as The Oklahoman's Anthony Slater observed:
Marc Gasol and Tony Allen both with three fouls coming out of halftime. Miller and Conley with two. Thunder should attack to start 3rd.— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 4, 2014
This series featured four overtime games and was as hard-fought and competitive as fans could have hoped for. In the end, the superior squad seemed to succeed when it mattered most, albeit aided by Randolph's suspension in the decisive game.
Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman provided Durant's post-game comments on media criticism:
Durant on the media criticism: "You guys motivated me a little bit, even though I told you you didn't."— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) May 4, 2014
Mayberry also spoke about Durant's demeanor:
Durant looks as relaxed as he has this entire series at the podium right now, like a weight's been lifted off his shoulders.— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) May 4, 2014
The Grizzlies have to hold their heads high after the resolve they displayed absent one of their biggest stars. Since the Western Conference is so deep, it's hard to project how all these postseason clubs will fare, but there is room for Memphis to build.
How far will the Thunder go in the 2014 NBA playoffs?
All the pressure was on Oklahoma City to avert a disappointing first-round exit, and the Thunder didn't panic in trailing by double digits in the first half. Instead, Durant and Westbrook continued their collective maturation process and were both clicking on an elite level, showcasing how lethal they can be when they're on the same page.
Thriving amid such heavy criticism that would surely become even more intensive had they lost, the Thunder are moving forward and proved they can face adversity with their two superstars connected and leading the way. With how shaky the San Antonio Spurs have looked as the conference's top seed, Oklahoma City suddenly has the look of a potential NBA finalist.
It's safe to say that while the Thunder have proven they are certainly not invincible, no team in the West has separated itself from the pack. Whoever emerges from the Warriors-Clippers series will have their hands full with an Oklahoma City squad that is firing on all cylinders.