When Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are playing their best basketball, there’s not a lot anyone can do to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Memphis Grizzlies tried, but without their top scorer, a great start to the game and a surprising effort from them in the series couldn’t last in game 7, as the favorites finally took back the lead and the ticket to the next round with a 120-109 win.
Zach Randolph not playing took its toll eventually. The Grizzlies did start the game with a 36-27 first quarter as the Thunder found it impossible to slow down Mike Conley and especially Marc Gasol, but Russell Westbrook wasn’t on the floor to make mistakes or steal the show this time, capping off a triple double night, and Kevin Durant caught fire at some point. Little things like passing, defense and offensive set plays don’t matter when he’s in the zone.
Durant simply couldn’t miss. He was 6-of-6 on catch and shoot shots, 2-for-2 on pull up 3-pointers which he constantly missed previously and was 6-of-7 from the field with Tony Allen in his face. Everything that worked previously in the series didn’t matter, as Durant scored 33 points, as eight of his 12 field goals came from Russell Westbrook assists. Westbrook has 27 points (10-of-16 from the field!), 10 rebounds and 16 assists in what might be his best performance this season overall, not just the playoffs.
When the Grizzlies started missing, the Thunder began running, and things were easier for them. Marc Gasol scored 24 points. Mike Conley had 20 himself, but they couldn’t get anything going from the outside despite the presence of Mike Miller in the lineup, plugging in for Zach Randolph, and didn’t have that someone providing the Durant-like ability to pull away in a game without too much of an effort, simply by getting hot.
Zach Randolph didn’t play, and it didn’t matter if it was a justified decision or not. It was the first time a leading scorer for a team in a series was suspended from a game 7, but the Grizzlies might have been able to make up for his absence if they played better on offense from the first quarter and onward. Mike Conley had a hamstring problem he battled with through the game, but excuses don’t matter once the season is over.
So is Steven Adams the hero for the Thunder? Many for the Grizzlies believe they would have gotten through if it wasn’t for the suspension. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins weren’t very dominant, or even very good (Perkins played only 10 minutes), but they didn’t mean a lot in the grand scheme of things. When you have a player that can shoot this way and his second in command who on some nights looks like the best point guard in the league, foundations and playing smart basketball aren’t that important.
The Thunder advance to meet the Los Angeles Clippers, a team they have bad blood with, even more than they do with the Grizzlies. The Clippers offer a different set of problems than what they saw from the Memphis Grizzlies, but once again it might be a series that will be determined by each team’s ability to assert dominance in the paint, although there’s no real proven stopper to slow down Durant this time.