MEMPHIS — Reggie Jackson already had returned from the Witness Protection Program. Already had reminded us why he’s such an integral part of the Thunder and the Thunder future.
But then Jackson went into high gear and made sure the Thunder is headed back to Oklahoma City tied 2-2 with the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Thunder beat Memphis 92-89 in overtime Saturday night to even their Western Conference playoff series, and Jackson saved the Thunder. There is no other way to say it.
Don’t believe it? Believe it. Jackson had a career high 32 points, on 11-of-16 shooting. That helped offset the woeful shooting of Durant and Westbrook, who each scored 15 points. They combined to make just 11 of 45 shots.
The sixth man who had gone silent in the first three games of this series outscored Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Combined.
The sixth man who had made just three of 19 shots and scored just 15 points in the first three games of the series, was the go-to guy for the Thunder.
By game’s end, Durant and Westbrook stood off to the side, while Jackson initiated the offense and sometimes didn’t even look their way. By game’s end, with OKC needing only to make foul shots to keep control, Jackson kept the ball instead of passing to Durant. And no one seemed to mind.
Jackson was great all game long. First half, with 11 points as the Thunder took a 42-35 lead. Then late, after the Thunder squandered a 14-point lead and seemed headed for a cataclysmic defeat. Down 80-75 in the final 80 seconds, and the offense totally stagnant, Jackson took matter into his own hands. He launched a long 3-pointer that swished and gave the Thunder life.
“Huge shot,” said Memphis coach Dave Joerger said.
Said Scotty Brooks, “He’s worked on it. He’s improved his game in all areas. He’s improves his 3-point shooting by all the time he’s put in. Reggie stepped up for us.”
After a Durant steal, Jackson drove the lane and dropped in a runner that tied the game at 80 with 30.6 seconds left.
Maybe not the miracle comebacks of Games 2 and 3 that took the Thunder to overtime, but this time, OKC finished the deed in overtime and did it with a different face. Jackson scored eight points in overtime, including 6-of-6 on foul shots in the final two minutes. Jackson’s first pair gave the Thunder an 86-85 lead, and his last four padded Thunder leads.
This franchise has looked for a third wheel on the perimeter since James Harden was whisked to Houston. Perhaps the Thunder found it Saturday night in the form of Jackson, who is highly prized by the Thunder brass for his versatility, ability and demeanor.
“Reggie Jackson was tremendous, as we know he can be,” Joerger said. “He got all the way to the rim too many times. Probably was the difference in the game.”
The Thunder is a different team when it has that third wheel. Jackson has been that player from time to time. He was great down the stretch of this regular season. If he plays like this, the Thunder can survive the Memphis malaise and get about the business of winning the Western Conference.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.