By Randy Renner
The Memphis Grizzlies and their fans prefer to call FedEx Forum “The Grindhouse,” and the Grizzlies like to say they play basketball with a ‘grit and grind” style.
Saturday night the Oklahoma City Thunder displayed some grit of their own and managed to grind out a gutty, must-have, 92-89 overtime win.
Thunder backup point guard Reggie Jackson came out of witness protection or where ever he’d been hiding during Games 2 and 3 and played the game of his life. A career-high playoff high, while his superstar teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook each struggled through a playoff low shooting night.
Neither had ever shot less than 30 percent in the same playoff game. It was just the second time in 474 total games together they’d both been that inefficient from the field.
No matter, Saturday night it was Reggie to the rescue.
And when it was over, after Jackson had tied the game with a 3-pointer, a steal and a runner in the closing seconds of regulation and then eight more points in overtime including four straight ice-in-his-veins free throws, Durant was the first to run to him and hug him tight. What KD said to the 3-year man from Boston College brought tears to his eyes.
“We told each other we love each other,” Jackson said in the Thunder lockerroom. “I never expected something like this would happen, especially in these playoffs.”
Jackson had had a solid outing in Game 1, with nine points and eight rebounds, but he and everyone else on the bench seemed to pull a disappearing act in Games 2 and 3, both Thunder one-point losses in overtime.
Saturday night was different. The bench came up big as the stars struggled and Reggie Jackson all of a sudden had fans calling him “Mr. April.”
“Coach (Scott Brooks) kinda called my number when I had the ball a few times and I was bringing it up,” Jackson said. “Nobody really said anything. It was more the look in their eyes.
“Unfortunately the shots weren’t going down for KD and Russ. As a whole, as a team, it seems like it’s been like that the whole series. I was happy to be in the moment, go out there and have fun with the game.”
Jackson was an unlikely hero. Through the first three games of the series he had averaged just 5.0 pointson 15.8 percent shooting (3-for-19 overall and 0-for-6 on threes). Way off his 13.1 ppg and 44.0 percent shooting during the regular season.
In Games 2 and 3 it was Memphis that kept coming up with x-factor guys, Beno Udrih, in particular comes to mind. Meanwhile the Thunder were just coming up with non-factors.
That flipped on Saturday.
Even as Durant and Westbrook struggled mightily with their shots and were responsible for 12 of the Thunder’s 21 turnovers, they came up big in other areas.
Each pulled down double-digit rebounds, Durant with 13 and Westbrook with 10. Durant had two steals and two blocks, Westbrook had seven assists and three steals.
“I always tell the guys if you only think you can impact the game by scoring, we’re not going to be successful,” Brooks said. “You impact the game many, many different ways. We’re built on defense. We’re built on teamwork.”
Teamwork really showed up Saturday night. Even when things went sideways in the fourth quarter as the Thunder let a 14-point lead vanish.
“We were struggling there in the fourth, and he (Jackson) just took it over,” Durant said. “He was aggressive going to the rim all night. He just told himself before the game to be assertive. Defensively he was good. Offensively he attacked the defense and opened it up for everybody. We rolled all night. He made huge, huge plays and I’m so proud of him.”
Jackson was so good the Thunder started running some plays for him, Westbrook and Durant deferred to him and Memphis even sent doberman defensive specialist Tony Allen out to guard him.
“We have some sets that we put in for Reggie to go at some mismatches,” Brooks said. “Reggie was able to create and find buckets for himself around the basket.”
Jackson’s 32 points are tied for the 2nd most by a bench player in the last seven years in the NBA playoffs and with his 32 points and nine rebounds last night he joins Manu Ginobili as the only players coming off the bench with that type of stat line in the last 25 years worth of NBA playoff games.
Saturday morning after the Thunder’s shootaround session Durant got a bit philosophical.
"It’s kinda like your back is against the wall when you’re down and that’s when you see who you are and what you’re made of. It’s easy to play together, it’s easy to come out excited, it’s easy to come out with a sense of urgency when you’re up 3-0, or 2-1 or 2-0 in a series," he said.
"But once you’re down it really shows what type of team you have what type of organization you have because everybody’s supposed to come together when you’re down when you’re backs are against the wall, especially on the road down 2-1."
Saturday night we all saw what type of team, what type of organization the Thunder are. Guys who are ready to accept the challenge, guys are ready to keep fighting.
Guys who don’t want to let go of a dream.