Kevin Durant has spent more than a few moments on a basketball court peeved at Reggie Jackson. Alpha dogs, even cuddly alpha dogs like Durant, want the ball. Most of the time, Jackson is accommodating. Most of the time. But not always.
Jackson didn’t do a lot of passing down the stretch last Saturday night against Memphis. Only this time, Durant didn’t bark. In fact, when the game was over, Jackson earned a hug.
Not just a quick man-hug. Not a slap on the back. A waiting-to-exhale hug. A turn-on-the-tears hug. A welcome-to-the-club hug.
Jackson had just scored 32 points, including five in the final minute of regulation to force overtime, and saved not just Game 4 for the Thunder but maybe its season. This Western Conference playoff series is tied 2-2, and suddenly the Thunder has added to its list of prime-time players. Jackson stepped onto the stage and announced to the world that Durant and Russell Westbrook don’t have to take every big shot or score every big point.
Durant was grateful. Jackson was moved. Tears welled in Jackson’s eyes as he realized the magnitude of what he had done. Heck, Jackson got emotional Monday just talking about the emotion.
Don’t mistake Jackson’s emotions for softness. The Grizzlies, a pack of copperheads and cobras, will vouch for Jackson’s toughness. Who cares if Jackson wept after the game. Memphis knows all too well that steely look in Jackson’s eyes.
Maybe Jackson got all emotional because he’s a regular guy. They’re hard to find in pro basketball. It usually takes a certain personality to make the NBA. And the stardom that goes with making an NBA roster can change even the most grounded of people.
So far, that’s not Jackson. Soft-spoken. Introspective. Considerate of people. Jackson goes around saying that the only thing that can happen at the foul line is make or miss. The only thing that can happen in a ballgame is win or lose. He seems to have the perspective of a padre, not a pit bull point guard, though that’s exactly what he is.
“The embrace meant so much,” Jackson said. “We all may have our moments where we’re barking at each other, trying to get things done, but we’ve been here watching each other putting in the work to get better. Just that moment, getting it done, didn’t matter who got it done. We were happy to get it done.
“Special to share that moment with ‘em. We believe in each other so much. We’ve been talking about being able to hoist the trophy. We felt like that was a big moment for us.”
Caron Butler, who’s been on the scene only six weeks, called it “special” and said “couldn’t happen to a better person. He was ready for that moment.”
Too early to tell exactly how significant was Jackson’s performance. Breakout game or anomaly? I mean, Mike Dunleavy popped the Wizards for 35 points the other night. Anything’s possible.
No way to know the long-term ramifications. But short-term? A fabulous night for Jackson and the Thunder.
He scored eight points in overtime. Nine points in the fourth quarter. Five points in the final minute of regulation.
“Every kid dreams of the shot, counting down,” Jackson said. “Everybody knows, in the backyard, what you’re doing. You dream of moments like that. It was great. Finally felt like it paid off, especially on that stage.”
This was April, but it felt like March. Felt like an NCAA Tournament game, where a guy you’ve never heard of has the game of his life and the victor celebrates like the last day of school.
One last vestige of the Thunder U. charm. This team has grown up. It’s no longer the fuzz-faced young’ns trying to make their way in the world. No longer the half frat house, half basketball team. Durant and Jackson told the story Monday about the lockout summer, when the Thunder had drafted Jackson but couldn’t be in contact with him. Jackson was in OKC, working out with his new teammates, and didn’t have a place to live. Spent one night on Durant’s kitchen floor and didn’t mind, because he can sleep most anywhere, including a two-minute busride to the arena.
“Me and Reggie have a close relationship,” Durant said. “Great relationship. It’s up and down. We get on each other. We almost come to blows sometimes. But I’m there for him. When I need him, just to talk, just to be there. That hug right there symbolizes our relationship. It was good to celebrate that moment with him.”
Jackson talked Monday of his “journey.” The third-year players toiling away in Sacramento and Cleveland and Milwaukee don’t really want to hear such talk, but nothing’s come easy for Jackson. Not highly-recruited out of high school in Colorado Springs. Not a prominent draft prospect out of Boston College. Didn’t even suit up during the 2012 NBA Finals as a rookie. Beat out popular backup point guard Eric Maynor, meaning Jackson had to prove himself even more. Even the first three games of this very series, when Jackson, despite playing well most of the season, made just three of 19 shots.
“Been some tough times,” Jackson said. “Grew up thinking of moments where you get a chance, realty feel like you impact your team, take over a game and win. Just happy we did it together.
“Happy to be a part of getting stops, making shots at the moment, my teammates trusting in me. Very emotional moment for me. Hopefully one of many to come.”
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at . 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.