Culture of Hoops

“Mr. Unreliable” leads Oklahoma City Thunder in destruction of Memphis Grizzlies

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

When considered in relation to the game of basketball and its trials on a player’s overall standing among the best, the word “unreliable” represents the absolute worst trait of any athlete. And when a local Oklahoma City newspaper pinned the word onto Kevin Durant, an immediate and telling display relayed to basketball fans that he is the opposite of such an unjustified and accusing remark. With 36 points and 10 rebounds in a Game 6 victory against the Memphis Grizzlies, Durant silenced any doubts of his standing as a player, as a scorer, as a sure-fire MVP, and as a potential champion.

With an instantly aggressive attitude in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 20-point destruction of a Grizzlies team which previously seemed poised to take the series, Durant made it very apparent that the ideals of unreliability surrounding him would be blocked, as he completely changed his approach on the offensive side of the ball to start off red-hot. He stuck to his bread and butter in this one, taking mid-range jumpers with ease over Tayshaun Prince, who struggled to stop his offensive attack. The most impressive aspect of Durant’s game is that even when Memphis threw Tony Allen’s constant defensive onslaught at him, KD found a way to put himself in the best possible position to score the basketball. Especially at the fast pace of this Game 6, Durant was able to stop and pop in transition for shots that have become automatic for him throughout his growth as a scorer.

The combination of Durant’s bombarding of Memphis’ defense with Russell Westbrook’s more efficient performance proved to be too deadly against a Grizzlies team that found no answers in the defense of Mike Conley, as Westbrook’s shots were taken in rhythm without the haphazard nature, which has plagued his games through this first-round series. Much like Durant, he focused his offensive energy on the mid-range game, an area of offense which has displayed itself as a reliable solution to Memphis’ defending of the three-point line. Finishing with 25 points on 42.8 percent shooting, Westbrook proved to be one of the major factors for this Thunder win, as he made the conscious effort not to force any shots until he was given looks tailored for his strong shooting ability. His efforts on the glass and his stellar passing to Kevin Durant and even Kendrick Perkins granted him nine rebounds and five assists for a much-needed efficient performance.

A direct result of this beating by the Thunder, Memphis will likely evaluate the pace in preparation for Game 7. The defensive effectiveness through much of this game, from Steven Adam’s five blocked shots to Russell Westbrook’s annoying presence on Mike Conley, created a pace that broke this game wide open and made it OKC’s for the taking. It’s no secret that this team thrives in an aggressive, high-tempo mode of basketball with one of the best transition duos in Westbrook and Durant. Especially against a Memphis team with virtually no fast-break presence, the Thunder would be best served if trying to duplicate this game 6 performance which focused on defensive stops for the creation of easy buckets. With a Russell Westbrook focused more on an all-around game rather than his previously known shooting mirage, the Thunder were able to use his stops and contributions from other defensive players to make this game much too fast-paced for the Grizzlies’ liking. If the team can duplicate this game speed through Game 7, this series will without a doubt go to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

It may have been the newspaper article labeling KD as “unreliable,” it may have been the accusations on Russell Westbrook calling out his ultra-selfish offensive play, or it may have been the huge playoff expectations going into the postseason. Regardless of what it was, something has brought this Thunder team back to their usual selves, and it showed through this 104-84 win. Moving toward a Game 7 finish, this series will ultimately be decided on the offensive performances of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, as well as the Grizzlies’ ability to keep the pace slow enough to give them a fighting chance. They didn’t have one in Game 6, and it puts them on the brink of elimination as Saturday’s match-up approaches.

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