Reggie Jackson Bails out Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook in OKC's Game 4 WinApril 27, 2014
For the third time in as many games, the Oklahoma City Thunder erased a late deficit, this time in overtime on Saturday evening in a 92-89 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
Now, if you didn't get the chance to see the game, you are probably expecting a highlight reel of ridiculous clutch shots from superstar forward Kevin Durant, like the falling-out-of-bounds four-point play he hit in Game 2.
Ah, then the hero must have been Russell Westbrook, who matched his teammate Durant with yet another four-point play in Game 3.
Not only were the Thunder spared from a 3-1 series deficit by someone other than their two All-Stars, but their savior didn't even start the game. Backup point guard Reggie Jackson carried Oklahoma City with a game-high 32 points in an ugly overtime win.
Jackson scored often, and he scored in the clutch. With the Thunder down five in the final minute, and Durant (0-of-6 in the fourth) and Westbrook (3-of-10 in the fourth) completely ineffective, Jackson single-handedly brought the Thunder back.
First, he dribbled behind the three-point line and nailed a three with the shot clock running down to draw Oklahoma City within two. Then, when Memphis missed on its ensuing possession, Jackson hit a beautiful floater in the lane to draw even.
Jackson continued his clutch play into overtime, scoring eight of the Thunder's 12 points. He was 11-of-16 from the field in this game, including a perfect 8-of-8 from the free-throw line. He also grabbed nine rebounds, making him only the second reserve to notch 32 points and nine boards in a playoff game in the last 25 years, per The Associated Press' Tim Reynolds:
The Strangest Game Ever
Was Saturday night's game an instant classic? Not if you enjoy star players playing like stars.
Durant, the likely league MVP, scored 15 points on 5-of-21 shooting in 49 minutes. That isn't just bad for him, it's unprecedentedly bad in 2013-14. He had 11 points in regulation, which would have been his worst total of the season. He scored 13 in a loss to the Timberwolves way back on Nov. 1.
The 2013-14 scoring champ had not been held below 20 points in a game since Dec. 21, against the Spurs—a span of 58 games, including the playoffs.
Durant started out the game deferring to his teammates, which prompted a humorous exchange with a Grizzlies fan on the sidelines, per CBS Sports' Gary Parrish:
While he would eventually shoot (and quite often), those shots simply did not go in. Durant's 5-of-21 from the field, a 23.8 field-goal percentage, was by far his worst of the season (second worst: 30.8 percent on April 9 against the Clippers).
And Westbrook was essentially just as bad as Durant, shooting 6-of-24 from the field.
That's right: Durant and Westbrook shot a combined 11-of-45...and the Thunder won!
Credit should go not only to Jackson, but also to power forward Serge Ibaka, who was Oklahoma City's most effective starter on Saturday. The Spanish national chipped in 12 points on 6-of-11 shooting, pulled down 14 rebounds and blocked five shots.
Like Jackson, Ibaka also came through in the clutch, blocking a Tony Allen putback attempt with 4.7 seconds left to send the game into overtime.
Scott Brooks and Adjustments
The Thunder have always had an extremely versatile roster, with many players athletic enough to defend multiple positions. But head coach Scott Brooks is often loath to use that roster creatively, preferring instead to use big lineups with creaking big man Kendrick Perkins at the 5 whenever possible.
Unfortunately, that often plays right into the hands of the Grizzlies, who have one of the league's best frontcourts in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
But Saturday's game provided an interesting twist on the chess match between Brooks and Memphis coach Dave Joerger. Randolph struggled mightily, and Joerger removed him in favor of a two-point-guard lineup featuring backup point guard Beno Udrih. Brooks responded by riding the hot hand, playing Jackson more minutes than normal.
It was a good strategy, but it backfired on Brooks—Memphis mounted a comeback and took the lead with the smaller lineups. Was Oklahoma City's lineup flawed, or did the Thunder simply fail by running the offense through an ice-could Westbrook?
The game finally turned in the Thunder's favor when Brooks kept the ball in Jackson's hands, using Westbrook as the de facto shooting guard, per Thunder Daily's Royce Young:
This presents an interesting dilemma for Game 5. Durant is clearly struggling with the defensive matchup of Tony Allen, and that is likely to continue to throughout the series. Allen is simply that good defensively.
Until the last few minutes of Game 3, Brooks' response to the Durant problem was simply to allow Westbrook to take more shots (he took 28 in Game 2 and 26 in Game 3). And no other player really stepped up to carry the offensive burden—Jackson himself shot less than 15 percent from the field in the first three games.
If the Thunder are to take Game 5, Brooks will have to once again find a third scorer to take the burden off Durant and Westbrook. Since neither Perry Jones nor Jeremy Lamb has gained the coach's trust this season, the options boil down to Ibaka, Jackson and Caron Butler (six points in Game 4).
They might not be exciting offensive options, but one of those three will likely be the key if the Thunder are to emerge from this brutal first-round series.
All statistics are courtesy of NBA.com/Stats unless otherwise noted.