OKLAHOMA CITY — It was only a matter of time before he showed up in full force. The Kevin Durant that had lit up the NBA on his way to a fourth scoring title and possible MVP selection was bound to make his presence known.
It took the magnitude of a Game 7 to bring out the true Durant, who scored 33 points to lead Oklahoma City to a 120-109 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“I got out of my own way,” Durant said. “I was thinking too much, worried about what you guys were saying. I was just thinking too much. The game of basketball is played off instincts and I realized I started playing basketball to have fun. I didn’t want to take the pure fun out of the game.”
The victory advanced the Thunder into the Western Conference semifinals where they will play the winner of Saturday night’s Los Angeles Clippers-Golden State Warriors Game 7 game. This is the fourth straight season the Thunder have made it to the semifinals.
“I know that we’re going to keep fighting,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “I know that we have a resilient group that loves to compete. We don’t like to lose. We always try to find ways to get better.”
After fighting through a hard-nosed Memphis defense for six games, Durant torched the Grizzlies in the winner-take all contest. He shot 12-for-18 to go with eight rebounds and five turnovers. Memphis coach Dave Joerger had no answer for the all-star forward.
“Durant made a lot of shots,” Joerger said. “He made some tough shots, but he was aggressive. Durant came one time and said ‘Hey, this is fun.'”
Guard Russell Westbrook was just as electric posting 27 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high 16 assists. It’s his second triple double of the postseason.
Brooks said it’s the type of performance he expects from his point guard in close out games.
“I don’t want to go home,” Westbrook said. “We fought to hard to get to this point. We too hard to get ourselves in a position to come back home in front of our fans and let them down.”
In only his second game as a starter, forward Caron Butler added 15 points.
Playing without their leading scorer forward Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies went to center Marc Gasol to carry them. He led the team with 24 points, but was held to two rebounds. He made only one field goal after the first period. Guard Mike Conley chipped in with 20 points and nine assists, despite playing on a bad hamstring.
“Conley decided he was going to play no matter what,” Joerger said. “He just said there’s no tomorrow. He’s been so good for us. He’s put us on his shoulders during tough stretches during the season.”
With the home crowd behind them, the Thunder came out the gates swinging. They led by 11 before the first timeout.
But the Grizzlies didn’t waste any time going on a run of their own and taking the lead. Behind Gasol’s post skills and the Thunder’s seven turnovers, Memphis led 36-27 after 12 minutes.
Conley found his way into the lane for tough layups. Oklahoma City couldn’t control him as Memphis pulled ahead by 11.
It was Oklahoma City’s defense that finally began to assert itself midway through the second quarter. Westbrook made a highlight worthy block that brought the fans to their feet while forward Serge Ibaka shutdown Gasol the final three quarters.
But it was Durant’s shooting that put the Thunder ahead 61-58 at halftime. That included a 3-pointer right before the buzzer sounded.
Oklahoma City began the third on a 17-5 run. Durant drained a couple of more shots from behind the arc to ignite the crowd.
Memphis kept taking advantage of the Thunder turnovers and didn’t let the score get out of hand.
In the end, the Grizzlies had no answer for a man who was seemingly on a mission.
“You guys (media) motivated me a little bit, even though I told you didn’t,” Durant said. “I really looked at all my guys in their eyes and didn’t want to let them down. They didn’t think of it that way, but I didn’t want to let them down. I just wanted to play as hard as I could no matter what.”
NOTES: Oklahoma City C Steven Adams was caught off guard by the news of Memphis F Zach Randolph being suspended for Game 7 after punching Adams in Game 6. “Yeah, I just thought it was an off-ball foul and carried on playing,” Adams said. “I was just trying to focus on what play we had called, my mind’s really slow sometimes and doesn’t process stuff straight away, so that helps. I was surprised that he got taken out, I’m a big fan of his to be honest with you because he’s real smart with how he plays. So it’s unfortunate.” … Memphis F Tony Allen woke up Saturday with swelling in his eye, the result of Thunder F Caron Butler scratching him in Game 6. He didn’t participate in shoot-around. … Memphis coach Dave Joerger broke protocol and didn’t hand in a starting lineup until minutes before tip-off. He kept it a secret that Allen and G Mike Miller would start in place of Randolph and F Tayshaun Prince. … Thunder coach Scott Brooks was asked if coming back to beat the San Antonio Spurs two years ago after being down 0-2 prepared his team for any type of adversity. “Our guys have been through a lot of things together,” Brooks said. “Good times. A lot of tough times. But they’ve always stuck together and that’s so important. I’m not saying they get along every single. They don’t. I’ve never been on a team that does. If you have a happy team you probably don’t have a very good team that really cares.”
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