Oklahoma City Thunder: How OKC 'showed the heart of a champion'

COMMENTARY — The Thunder looked dead twice in Game 5 Wednesday night. Then Memphis' Tony Allen threw in the towel (OK, T-shirt) — and Oklahoma City didn't.
by Berry Tramel Published: May 16, 2013

Somehow, some way, Kevin Durant found an open space. Who knows how? Finding an open shot against these Grizzlies is like finding a parking space in downtown Boston. Memphis plays defense like it has seven players on the court.

Much less when Durant was worn out. More weary than a coal miner after an overtime shift. Carrying the burden of the Thunder franchise on his spindly shoulders, since Russell Westbrook's knee injury the last week of April.

But as the seconds ticked down in the dangdest game you've ever seen in the ‘Peake, there was Durant, somehow breaking free of Tony Allen and rising high for a shot that could forge a tie and cap a comeback no one thought possible.

But just like 15 other Durant shots Wednesday night, this one bounced off. And a Thunder season that seemed so promising just three weeks ago came to a thud.

The Grizzlies eliminated the Thunder 88-84, winning this Western Conference semifinal series four games to one, and the script was amazingly similar. Every game close, down to the last minute, every game in the 80s or 90s.

And it's no shock that while Durant and the Thunder made the plays to win Game 1, the Grizzlies grew stronger, and the Thunder weaker, as the series wore on. Memphis won the final round of all four games in this slugfest. The Thunder clearly was gassed.

Low on energy. Low on emotion. Low on magic. Low on everything, it seemed, except belief. Because this game looked over twice.

Down 50-38 at halftime after perhaps the worst quarter in Thunder history, OKC trailed 60-46 midway through the third quarter. With no Westbrook, the fuel of this team, the Thunder looked not only merely dead but really most sincerely dead.

But somehow, the Thunder found more fire, even with Durant missing shots at an alarming rate. He finished five of 21 from the field, made no 3-pointers, and obviously was frustrated the entire night.

But Allen's brain-lock — throwing a shirt on the court from the bench while Derek Fisher was missing yet another 3-pointer — gave the Thunder a free three points, plus a Durant technical foul shot, and before you know it, this was a 64-62 game. Fisher even had a shot to put the Thunder ahead on the final play of the third quarter, a miss that kept the arena roof attached.

But the Thunder was out of energy. The two guys that tried to fill Westbrook's energy shoes were Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka, with a series of hustle plays. But Ibaka got in foul trouble, and Scotty Brooks benched Thabo in the fourth quarter, a move he no doubt regrets.

The Grizzlies kept the wraps on Durant. In the first nine minutes of the quarter, Durant committed two turnovers and made just one of four shots. Tayshaun Prince, the defensive demon of those great old Piston teams a decade ago, refound his calling. Allen wasn't even needed. Prince bothered Durant plenty enough all series long and was fantastic in Game 5.

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by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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