Kendrick Perkins sprung Kevin Durant free for an open 17-foot shot that would have broken a tie with little more than three minutes left in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals Sunday. The shot missed.
Durant walked over to Perkins and said, “I ain't gonna miss no more.”
Perk believed him. So did all his Thunder teammates and anyone else who's been paying attention to Durant in recent years.
Count Scotty Brooks in that crowd. Which is why, with Game 1 on the line in what promises to be a rousing series with Memphis, Foreman Scotty did what few NBA coaches are willing to do. He let his players play.
No timeout. No letting the Grizzlies set up their ferocious defense. No risking anything that would take the ball out of Durant's hands.
Good things happen to the Thunder when the game's on the line and the ball's in Durant's hands. And the ball was in Durant's hands after Derek Fisher poked it away from Memphis' Mike Conley with 18 seconds left and the Grizzlies up one point.
“KD lives for those type of moments,” Perkins said. “He's just got a gift.”
Durant dribbled upcourt as Tayshaun Prince, a quality defender, squared up but also knew his reinforcements weren't set behind him.
Durant feigned a drive, then rose for a 19-footer. Swish. The Thunder led by one with 11.1 seconds left and held on for a 93-91 victory.
Good for Durant. And good for Brooks, who didn't muddy up the opportunity. He did what the best coaches do. Prepare their players to play, then get out of the way.
“We made a good defensive play, and they have such a great team defense, and I just wanted to get it up the floor as quick as possible and find a shot,” Durant said. “That was the only shot I could find, and by the grace of God it went in.”
NBA researchers long have proved that calling a timeout in late-game situations shifts the advantage to the defense. But that hasn't stopped coaches from routinely calling timeout to set up a scoring play.
Conley said the Grizzlies would have preferred to set up their defense, but “when you've got KD, I don't think it really matters. In any situation, he is going to be tough to guard. But obviously, it is tough to guard a guy when you've got a team backing up and you are trying to set up a defense. Either way, we were going to have our hands full.”
Durant missed five of his first six shots and midway through the third quarter had made just six of 15 shots. But in the final 15 1/2 minutes of the game, Durant made seven of 11 shots and scored 17 points. He also had three assists in the fourth quarter.
“Kevin has a high basketball IQ,” Brooks said. “When he handles the ball, he can make good decisions.”
During a timeout with 31.2 seconds left, Brooks told his team that if it got a stop against the Grizzlies, and the ball was in Durant's hands or Derek Fisher's hands, no timeout. Push it. Attack the Grizzlies, who if you let them will attack you with their defense.
Sure enough, the ball ended up in Durant's hands. Fisher poked the ball straight to Durant. He doesn't always shoot in those situations. Houston Game 2, Durant passed off twice in the last 65 seconds, leading to clutch baskets. But Durant, at age 24, has delivered enough clutch baskets in huge games for everyone in Boomtown to come to expect them.
“I knew that was a bucket,” Perkins said. “I ain't trying to be arrogant, seriously. I just knew that shot was going in.”
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.