MEMPHIS — Kevin Durant drove to the basket, missed a floating shot but got his own rebound under the basket, unencumbered by Memphis Grizzlies. Then Durant missed the easy putback. And his shoulders slumped.
About that time, Ray Westbrook, little brother of Russell, took to Twitter to call for Scotty Brooks’ head.
Soon enough, the Grizzlies’ fourth-quarter lead soared to 17 points.
The Thunder’s finely tuned culture and chemistry was imploding, along with the season.
Then the Thunder staged one of those epic rallies, made this a game and took Memphis to overtime. Only to lose, 98-95 Thursday night in Game 3 of this Western Conference playoff series.
The Thunder salvaged its pride. We’ll see if it can salvage its season.
For two straight games, the Thunder has staged a comeback for the ages, fueled by a final-minute four-point play. OKC’s 17-0 run wiped out Memphis’ lead, then Westbrook – Russell, not Ray – produced a four-point play with 26.6 seconds left in regulation. But just like Monday night in Game 2, the Grizzlies then took command in overtime.
The Thunder was oh, so close to two unforgettable victories. Now the Thunder is two games shy of elimination.
Beating the Grizzlies anywhere is becoming increasingly difficult, and beating them in FedEx Forum is becoming Herculean. Memphis has won 15 straight at home, and over three playoff series since 2011, the Thunder is 1-5 in the Grindhouse, needing three overtimes to get that one victory.
The bench suddenly stinks. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who played valiantly but not wisely, threw up 21 3-point shots and made but four. The Thunder is turning Memphis pit bull Tony Allen (16 points) into a star. And now there’s sniping within the family. Sorry, but the brother of one of the franchise cornerstones counts.
Who knows how much togetherness the Thunder has as critical Game 4 approaches Saturday night?
“We’ve been through a lot of battles together,” said Brooks. “We understand that on the road, it’s a tough environment. You have to stick together. That’s all you have. There’s no other choice. We’ve always been that way.”
No. The Thunder has always been a star-kissed team void of ill fortune. Then came Westbrook’s injury that derailed the 2013 playoff hopes, and now the Thunder is more gritty experience than youthful exuberance, more aware of what can go wrong than thrilled over what could go right.