After 19 Thunder-Memphis playoff games over the last 37 months, including eight that went overtime; after more grit and grind than a trip to an 19th-century dental office; after seeing more of Tony Allen and Marc Gasol and Mike Conley than you ever want to see, this much we know about the Grizzlies.
They aren’t easy to beat even when they’re easy to beat.
But after six years of the Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook act, this much we also know about the Thunder.
The Boomers are impossible to beat when Durant and Westbrook are at the top of their games together. Which they were Saturday night in the most critical of times.
Durant and Westbrook were sensational, apart from early turnovers, and delivered a 120-109 rout of Memphis in a Game 7 verdict that sends the Thunder to the Western Conference semifinals against whoever won the Clippers-Warriors midnight special late Saturday night.
Durant and Westbrook combined for 22-of-34 shooting, 60 points, 18 assists and 18 rebounds. Durant had 33 points, finally solving the Rubik’s Cube defense of Tony Allen. Westbrook had a triple double for the ages — as many assists as shots (16), the most rebounds on either team (10) and 27 points.
Durant and Westbrook struggled shooting throughout much of this mosh-pit series. Durant shot 41.2 percent in the first six games; Westbrook 35.6. But Memphis coach Dave Joerger talked like he had just watched a horror flick.
“You’re the opposing team’s coach and you’re looking at the shooting percentages these two guys are putting up, but you know what’s coming,” Joerger said. “They really made shots and made big shots. They also made shots maybe when we had a chance, when we were making a run, they answered back.”
And the short-handed Grizz made runs. Playing without suspended all-star forward Zach Randolph (who punched Thunder rookie Steven Adams in Game 6), Memphis punched the Thunder in the mouth, taking a 36-27 lead after one quarter. The Grizzlies led by as many as 11, were tied with five seconds left in the first half and reminded America just how they’re built. The NBA’s roughest, toughest team, that’s what the Grizzlies are.
But even rough and tough must give way to excellence. That’s what Durant and Westbrook were after they quit committing turnovers — seven combined in the first quarter. But the Thunder duo dominated the rest of the game. Westbrook played under control and took the kind of shots at which he excels — 17-foot pullup jumpers and drives to the hoop. Durant scored his usual myriad ways and found his long-missing bomb shot; Durant was 5-of-5 on 3-pointers after entering the game 12 of 48 in the series.