"Hungry" Durant Swallows Up Grizzlies
By Randy Renner
After being labeled as "Unreliable" by The Oklahoman earlier in the day, Thunder superstar Kevin Durant went out and set the tone early and went on to score 36 points as the Thunder rolled past the Memphis Grizzlies 104-84.
The do-or-die win on the road sets up a Game 7 showdown in Oklahoma City Saturday night.
"Durant was hungry and he ate first tonight," Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger said after the game. "Sometimes he tries to get other people involved. I thought he was very assertive early in the game."
Durant started hot, with three buckets in the first couple minutes of the game, and finished the first quarter with 14 of OKC's 28 points.
It was a rare hot start for the Thunder in this series and it proved too much for Memphis to overcome this time.
Durant told reporters afterwards that unflattering headline in his hometown paper did not serve as motivation.
"We were down 3-2," he said, "We were on the brink of elimination, that's more motivation than anything."
Head coach Scott Brooks hasn't been the subject of a headline but he's been criticized plenty in this series for some of his coaching decisions. One he made before last night's game helped swing things the Thunder's way.
For the first time since Brooks' first season as Thunder coach he changed his starting lineup, benching starting shooting guard and defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha. Brooks decided Caron Butler, "gave us the best chance to win the game," and that's about as far as his explanation went.
Butler's offensive threat forced a change in the Grizzlies' defensive approach. No longer could they afford to pay very little attention to OKC's "2" guard and that allowed Durant and Russell Westbrook more room to operate by opening up some driving and passing lanes.
It's the first time Brooks has benched a starter since sitting former point guard Earl Watson in favor of Westbrook.
It's a move that some were urging when James Harden was still on the Thunder roster but Brooks never pulled the trigger then.
This time, facing an early playoff exit for the first time since the Thunder's first playoff season, Brooks took the plunge.
Butler finished with just seven points but he hot two threes and his mere presence on the floor beside Westbrook and Durant took the Grizzlies out of their game.
The Thunder shot 49.3 percent overall after being down in the 30s the previous four games and on the defensive end OKC kept the Grizzlies at bay allowing them to hit just 37.3 percent of their shots.
The Grizz also lost point guard Mike Conley to a mild hamstring strain in the second half but Conley vowed after the game that he will play Saturday night no matter what.
As far as the Thunder's lineup change is concerned Brooks indicated he will stick with it, at least through this series.
The Thunder will practice later today and we'll update the website with a special video as we look toward Saturday's Game 7.