Thunder Wins Game 7 To Advance To Western Conference Finals
Nuggets from my notebook from Sunday’s 105-90 Game 7 win over the Memphis Grizzlies
- Kevin Durant did exactly what he needed to in trying to bounce back from a terrible Game 6. He was aggressive early. He was aggressive often. He didn’t settle. He didn’t let defenders push him off his spots. He attacked the rim. He tried to get to the foul line. He took however many shots he needed to with no regard for his shooting percentage. It led to a magnificent and much-needed 39-point effort in a Game 7.
- Here’s what Durant said about bouncing back. “That was not me at all during Game 6,” Durant said. “I felt thoroughly upset that I had let my teammates down. I was not only shooting poorly but I did not come into the game aggressive. So before this game, I made sure that I started off the game aggressive, whether I made my shots or not.”
- Durant had eight points on nine shots in the first quarter, and at that point it looked like it was going to be a long night. But, again, he was doing what he needed to do to get up shots and attack from within the 3-point line. I wouldn’t have cared if his poor shooting continued as long as he continued to attack.
- Here’s what Thunder coach Scott Brooks said about KD’s Game 6: “I guess I can say it now. He stunk last game.”
- Russell Westbrook deserves a lot of credit for how patient and poised he was today. In the biggest game of his life, he came out and played under control, let the game come to him and got his teammates involved in a big way. Westbrook had a game-high 14 assists, one more than the entire Grizzlies team, to go with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
- Westbrook’s triple double was only the fifth in Game 7 history. He joined Jerry West (1969), Larry Bird (1984), James Worthy (1988) and Scottie Pippen (1992). Yeah. Wow.
- Expect a lot of the national talking heads to say this is the way Westbrook needs to play. Do yourselves a favor and ignore them. No way Westbrook needs to take just 12 shots and try to get 14 assists every night. Should he look for his teammates more? No question. But he’s one of the best scorers in the league and, on this team, he needs to score. Period.
- Let me take it a step further. Westbrook didn’t do much different tonight that he didn’t do in Game 6. The difference was Durant was able to get open and the rest of Westbrook’s teammates were able to make a few more shots. Makes everything Westbrook does as a distributor look better doesn’t it?
- Another thing about Westbrook’s performance. Don’t overlook how 21 of Durant’s game-high 39 points came off feeds from Westbrook. Those dishes came on curls and kick-outs, lob passes and backdoor cuts. Westbrook had it all working, delivering his passes on time and on target.
- Oh yeah, Westbrook assisted five different players on scores. His passes led to 33 points.
- Brooks on Westbrook: “Russell has improved as quickly as any player that came out of college that did not play point (guard) in college. He gets picked on a little bit. But he keeps playing. He keeps improving. He keeps getting better. And tonight, he controlled the game.”
- Props to Brooks for making the adjustment and sticking with Nick Collison. Brooks brought Collison back much too late in the third quarter of Game 6. But he put him in for the first time at the 5:53 mark of the first quarter and rode him for all he had. It turned the tide in the game. The Thunder closed the quarter on a 13-4 run, and, thanks to Collison’s defense, Zach Randolph wasn’t much of a factor for the rest of the game.
- Collison made his presence felt on his first defensive possession. He literally played Randolph nose-to-nose, taking the defensive scheme of crowding a player to new heights. Collison could kiss Randolph on that first defensive possession he was so close to him. I would love to see a replay. I’m not exaggerating one bit. He forced Randolph into a miss and set the tone for the rest of the game.
- Then Collison had a putback on a Westbrook miss, then a block on a Mike Conleylayup, then another block on another Conley layup. Ask me, and I’d tell you Nick Collison was the player of this game.
- The reason Collison got the early call was because Serge Ibaka, for some reason, was not closing out on Randolph’s shots. After six games, you’d think Ibaka would know better. Z-Bo scored four points on jumpers in a two-minute span in the first five minutes of the first quarter, all because Serge wouldn’t close out and contest. Z-Bo put another baseline jumper in at the eight minute mark of the third quarter when Ibaka didn’t run out fast enough. There is no doubt in my mind that if Brooks didn’t get Ibaka out of there in that first quarter the Thunder would have lost this game. Instead, Brooks stuck with Collison for not only the final 5:53 of the first quarter but all but 11 seconds of the second quarter as well. Very unusual substitution pattern by Brooks, but one that saved this win.
- Collison played 33 minutes tonight, third most on the Thunder. In this series, the Thunder was 4-0 when Collison played more than 25 minutes and 0-3 when he played less than 25 minutes. Coincidence? I think not.
- I hope this series serves as a lesson to Brooks and the coaching staff that Ibaka doesn’t need to be relied on for man defense on low post scorers. Let him play off the scoring threat and do what he does best. That’s provide weak side help and turn in game-changing shot-blocking. Ibaka had just six blocked shots in the final four games of this series. He had that many in Game 3 alone. A lot of that had to do with fewer minutes. Just as much had to do with having to play on the ball.
- Big key to this win was limiting turnovers. The Thunder had just two in the first quarter, four below its average for the opening period in the first six games. Only once prior to Game 7 did the Thunder have two turnovers in the first quarter. OKC finished with 13, a series low, and Memphis scored only eight off them, also a series low.
- The Grizzlies had just 10 turnovers, but the Thunder scored 17 points off them. That, and the Thunder’s 19 total fast break points, helped OKC’s offense immensely.
- Thunder fans. You might consider sending Sam Young a Christmas card this year. Or something for his birthday (it’s June 1). Because that dude was on your side tonight. His shooting killed the Grizzlies in the first half. He started 0-for-4 from the field before finishing 2-for-6. The Thunder couldn’t enlarge its lead by more than a point from the time Young entered for the first time to the time he took his first breather. But Young sure as heck helped the Thunder from falling behind. Again, June 1.
- The Thunder did an excellent job of gang rebounding. Six players had at least three rebounds. Three players had at least nine. Westbrook had the same rebounding line as Randolph with six offensive and four defensive.
- I didn’t think I’d see Nate Robinson get another second of playing time after his And 1 move in Game 5. I was wrong. Perhaps it shouldn’t have come in garbage time, however, considering how poorly Daequan Cook played. Yeah, I haven’t given up that fight. This Mavs series might be a good time to unleash Robinson. Just throwing that out there.
- Did Nazr Mohammed really pull out a finger roll?
- Did Kendrick Perkins really hit a 17-footer?
- Is the Thunder really advancing further than Perk’s former Celtics? Can’t say I figured that would happen.
- Perk was a little disappointed the C’s got knocked out before the Thunder. “
- After calling out his teammates for excessive celebration in the blowout Game 5 win, Perk was proud of his guys for how they handled this victory. “One thing I liked about the locker room is guys wasn’t over-excited about this win tonight,” Perkins said. “It was like, ‘OK, we won. Move on.’ That was a good thing to see. That was a great sign.”
- There were some questions posed to Thunder players after the game about how this upcoming Thunder-Mavs series might enhance the Texas-Oklahoma rivalry. Let me say that I very well could be naive and completely off base with this opinion. But I think that the line of questioning was somewhat ridiculous and slightly embarrassing. I get that there is a rich rivalry between Texas and Oklahoma. But to bring a college tradition into a professional environment when one has little to nothing to do with the other made little sense to me — especially when a few of the players who were asked, James Harden for instance, aren’t anywhere close to the rivalry.
- With that said, I’m sure you’ll see about 20 stories about a rivalry between Texas and Oklahoma in the sports pages of The Oklahoman over the next two weeks.
- Thunder nation should love that everyone associated with the Thunder reiterated the goal of winning a championship after this game. While the taste of advancing past the first and second rounds might be sweet for the fans, the team clearly isn’t satisfied. It’s going to be an entertaining Western Conference Finals.
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