The just-concluded Thunder-Memphis series in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs had just about everything. On-court drama, off-court drama, an NBA playoff record four overtime games. Now the Thunder moves on. But before we get deep into the Thunder-Clippers West semifinals, let’s hail Thunder-Grizzlies for the fortnight it gave us.
Rally after rally
Here’s how crazy was this series of major comebacks.
The Thunder was down 17 points in the third quarter of Game 3. The Grizzlies were down 14 points in the third quarter of Game 4. The Thunder was down 20 points in the third quarter of Game 5.
All three times, that deficit was made up. And all three times, the team making the comeback lost in overtime.
Heck, those weren’t even the best comebacks of the series. The Thunder had four-point plays in the final 30 seconds of consecutive games (first Kevin Durant, then Russell Westbrook) to force overtime. And the Thunder lost both games.
Finally, the Thunder took a 21-point lead in the third quarter of Game 6 and a 16-point lead in the third quarter of Game 7. And there would be no Memphis comebacks.
On Feb. 21, 2009, defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha played his first game with the Thunder, just after being traded from Chicago. Sefolosha didn’t start. Kyle Weaver did. That was the last time Sefolosha didn’t start a game in which he was activated. Until Game 6 in Memphis.
Scott Brooks inserted Caron Butler into the starting lineup; Butler played almost 29 minutes, then again started Game 7 and played almost 41 minutes. Sefolosha played in neither game, and the Thunder won both in a rout.
Butler wasn’t all that efficient in the two games – 5-of-15 shooting, 22 points total – but the extra threat opened the offensive path for Kevin Durant, who snapped out of a slump in the two games.
And so ends quite the era. Since Kendrick Perkins arrived by trade in February 2011, he, Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant had started every game in which they were healthy. It was a lineup that took the Thunder to great heights. But now that era is over.
The series began innocently enough, with a 100-86 Thunder victory. Then came a remarkable stretch – four straight overtime games, setting an NBA playoff record.
Game 2: Kevin Durant’s four-point play virtually from the seat of his pants and Kendrick Perkins’ putback at the buzzer in the final 14 seconds forced overtime, but Zach Randolph’s layup with 26 seconds left in OT gave Memphis the lead for good in a 111-105 victory.
Game 3: Russell Westbrook’s four-point play with 26.6 seconds left tied the game, and both teams missed at the end of regulation. But after Durant gave OKC an early lead with a three-point play, Memphis scored eight straight points, and the Thunder turned too desperate, with Durant and Russell Westbrook flinging up desperation 3-pointers in the final minute with Memphis ahead by three.
Game 4: The Reggie Jackson game. With both Westbrook and Durant struggling, Jackson scored a career high 32 points, including the final five points of regulation, after Memphis led 80-75 with a minute to go. Then Jackson scored eight points in overtime, Memphis’ Mike Conley missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer and the Thunder won 92-89.
Game 5: The Thunder rallied from a 20-point deficit to catch Memphis, but the Grizzlies were in control down the stretch – until Westbrook stole the ball from Conley and dunked with four seconds left to force overtime. Randolph’s layup came just after the buzzer. In overtime, Durant missed a foul shot that would have tied it with 27.5 seconds left, then Serge Ibaka’s follow shot was ruled to have come just after the overtime buzzer, and Memphis prevailed 100-99.
Westbrook’s Game 7
In the 119 Game Sevens in NBA playoff history, only eight have included a triple double – double-digit totals in three major statistical categories. Russell Westbrook has two of the eight.