MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Kevin Durant swished a 3-pointer 65 seconds into the game. Two minutes later, he pump-faked Tony Allen off his feet, drew a foul and banked in an off-balance 15-footer.
Six Durant points in the first three minutes. One shot via textbook, the other via improv. Uh-oh, you thought. This is going to be one of those unforgettable nights for the Durantula. Maybe a historic night.
And it was. The other way.
Durant made just one basket the rest of the game, a 10-point Thunder halftime lead quickly evaporated and suddenly, here comes winner-take-all. The Memphis Grizzlies again proved they are no Gentle Bens, beating the Thunder 95-83 Friday night at FedExForum to set up the finale of this fascinating Western Conference semifinal.
These playoff novices give the NBA its first Game 7 of the 2011 playoffs, at 2:30 p.m. Sunday back in Oklahoma City, and suddenly, it's not Russell Westbrook on the firing line of pro basketball.
It's his pal.
Durant scored just 11 points Friday night, missing 11 of 14 shots and looking totally out of sorts by game's end. Durant slapped the scorer's table during a timeout with 1:23 left, which was a good sign, since he finally attacked something. The Thunder was down nine but it might as well have been 99. The only thing left was how many missed 3-pointers Durant could jack up in the final 90 seconds (three, if you're counting), and now the pressure shifts squarely onto his slender shoulders.
The Thunder can win without a huge game from Durant, but just like Memphis has proved it can't win without Zach Randolph at least showing up, Durant's got to contribute more than five points and one field goal the final 45 minutes.
“Frustrating, man, frustrating,” Durant said. “Starting the game off like I did, making the first two shots, I got a little bit of confidence. After that, when it goes downhill, it's frustrating.”
In Durant's defense, his hot hand was stopped initially not by Memphis, but by foul trouble. With the Thunder leading 4½ minutes into the game, Durant was called for charging, his second foul. He sat the rest of the quarter.
When Durant returned to open the second quarter, the Thunder caught fire with Westbrook and James Harden and bolted to a lead as big as 13. But Durant never joined the barbecue.
“He's saving himself for Sunday,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “He just missed. He had some nice looks and he missed them. I can't say we can take credit for that.”
If you can't, I can. The Grizzlies most definitely made Durant miss. Allen was his usual pesky self, but old pro Shane Battier returned to Doberman status, riding Durant throughout the game. Bad omen for Sunday: the Grizzlies remembered that Battier can play some defense.
Battier mostly kept Durant from getting the ball anywhere near scoring position, and on the few occasions when he didn't, the double-team was quick to help.
Thus came Durant's lowest production since February 2009, when he had six points in just eight minutes at Dallas.
One of the many good things about Durant's resume' is that he almost always recovers quickly from a subpar game.
“In the first half, the two early fouls just got him out of rhythm,” Thunder coach Scotty Brooks said. “We still had a 10-point lead in the second half. He just couldn't get anything to fall, and then he shot too many threes.
“Kevin is an incredible player. You're not going to see a lot of games like tonight. He's one of the best I've seen in bouncing back.”
Time to prove it. Not for his personal status, which would take a hit with two straight whiffs on a huge stage. But for the Thunder, which despite the defeat Friday night has opportunity in its hands.
Home teams have won 85 of the 106 Game 7s in NBA history. Win this one, and the young Thunder goes to Dallas and takes its swing at reaching the NBA Finals before its appointed time.
But make no mistake, the Thunder can lose this one. Will lose this one if Durant plays anything like he did Friday night.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.