Durant, of course, wasn’t half bad, either.
After four straight inefficient games, Durant responded with 36 points and 10 rebounds, both game-highs. He made 11 of 23 shots and had two assists, a steal and a blocked shot in 43 minutes.
Both Westbrook and Durant benefited by an unforeseen
For only the first time since inserting Westbrook into the starting lineup in 2008, Thunder coach Scott Brooks switched his starting lineup by choice rather than necessity. Brooks started Caron Butler in place of Thabo Sefolosha, a move that made sense in at least two ways. It could kick-start the Thunder’s stagnant offense, which entered Game 6 shooting less than 40 percent in four consecutive games. And it could prevent the Grizzlies from hiding point guard Mike Conley on Sefolosha, who entered Thursday’s game averaging just 3.4 points on 33.3 percent shooting.
The change, though, meant Westbrook would have to defend Conley. It was a dicey proposition given how inconsistent Westbrook has been on that end in this series, particularly in Game 5. Westbrook, however, took the challenge and helped limit Conley to five points, four rebounds and six assists. He missed eight of 10 shots.
“His defensive presence was really good,” Brooks said of Westbrook. “It gave us energy.”
The Thunder never let it go.
In the face of Thursday’s elimination pressure, the Thunder responded with its best first half since Game 1, taking a 56-41 lead at halftime with a revived offense and more rugged but consistent defense.
The Thunder took a 25-17 lead after the opening period, riding Durant’s torrid start and a much better show of disciplined shot selection. Durant scored 14 points in the quarter, making six of 10 shots, while the Thunder reduced its 3-point attempts and instead attacked the basket on aggressive drives that led to layups and kick-outs to open shooters.
The Thunder started the third period on a 5-0 run to bump its lead to 61-41 with 9:02 remaining in the quarter. The lead swelled to as many as 22 before the Thunder went into the final period with an 82-61 cushion.
Memphis never got closer than 16 in the final period.
“I thought that was a professional basketball win there,” Brooks said.