Without Russell Westbrook, it seemed like the Oklahoma City Thunder were doomed. But Kevin Durant just happens to be one of the most unstoppable players in the NBA, even when he’s on his own. Kevin Martin remembered he used to be a big time scorer, and over the last two games has carried the Thunder along with Durant, helping set up the ground for the fourth quarter turnaround and snatching game 1 away from the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies had a 90-87 lead with 1:07 to go and the possession after Marc Gasol stole the ball from Kendrick Perkins, but their offensive problems came back to haunt them. All they could get was a bad shot from Tayshaun Prince as the shot clock expired, and were answered by Kevin Durant making it 90-89 on the other side. Derek Fisher pulled off some more clutch magic with a huge steal on Mike Conley, leading to Durant scoring a quick one without Prince doing much to disrupt him. The Grizzlies lost the ball again, and the Thunder finished the job en route to a 93-91 win, which didn’t look quite probable for most of the third quarter.
The Grizzlies did most of the things right, for most of the game. They should be considered the favorites entering the series, and managed to work both Zach Randolph (19 points) and Marc Gasol (20 points) quite effectively. They eliminated Serge Ibaka, an important X-Factor for the Thunder, from the game, keeping him at an awful 1-10 shooting from the field and on only 5 points and rebounds. Kendrick Perkins wasn’t much better with only 1-6 from the field as well.
But the Grizzlies have a problem – they find it hard to generate enough offense to put games away, and it fell down on making the right plays at the right time, which went to the side with the best player on the court. Kevin Durant won the game almost by himself in the final four minutes, taking five of the final six shots the Thunder attempted, all of them beginning with him starting the play in the backcourt. The Thunder aren’t trying to replace Westbrook by playing smarter, they’re simply putting the ball in the hands of Durant – Durant has spent 37.3% of his plays in isolation, averaging 14 points per game and 1.24 points per play. During the regular season, Durant averaged 5.5 points per game and 0.99 points per play in isolation.
And when he went up for the clutch shot? Durant has now hit four game-tying or go-ahead shots in the final 24 seconds of a playoff game, tied for the most in the league over the past five seasons, hitting 40% of them. Ray Allen of the Miami Heat has also four shots that are money during that time-span missing only one attempt. Durant may have finished second on the All-Star voting, receiving 93 second-place votes, but there isn’t a player in the league you’d rather have the ball in his hands during the final seconds of a game.
I just wanted to get up the floor as quick as possible and find a shot. That was the only shot I could find and, by the grace of God, it went in.
Kevin Martin is why the Thunder were in the spot to win the game. Durant scored 35 points on 13-26 from the field, but the Grizzlies can soak his offense. They took out almost everyone else, but couldn’t stop Martin, who found a way into the paint and didn’t just settle for jumpers and open shots, which weren’t that plentiful. For the Thunder to make it out of this very tough series, they’re going to need this Kevin Martin, an almost All-Strish type of player at his best, every single game.