By Michael Kinney
CNHI News Service
OKLAHOMA CITY — It was only a matter of time before he showed up. The Kevin Durant that had lit up the NBA on his way to a fourth scoring title and possible MVP selection was bound to make his presence known.
It took the magnitude of a Game 7 to bring out the true Durant, who scored 33 points to lead Oklahoma City to a 120-109 win over Memphis Saturday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“I got out of my own way,” Durant said. “I was thinking too much, worried about what you guys were saying. I was just thinking too much. The game of basketball is played off instincts and I realized I started playing basketball to have fun. I didn’t want to take the pure fun out of the game.”
The victory advances the Thunder into the Western Conference semifinals where they will play the winner of Saturday night’s Los Angeles Clippers-Golden State Warriors game. This is the fourth straight season the Thunder have made it to the semifinals.
“I know that we’re going to keep fighting,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “I know that we have a resilient group that loves to compete. We don’t like to lose. We always try to find ways to get better.”
After fighting through a hard-nosed Memphis defense for six games, Durant torched the Grizzlies in the winner-take-all contest. He shot 12 for 18 to go with eight rebounds and five turnovers. Memphis coach Dave Joerger had no answer for the all-star forward.
“Durant made a lot of shots,” Joerger said. “He made some tough shots, but he was aggressive. Durant came up one time and said ‘Hey, this is fun.’”
Russell Westbrook was just as electric posting 27 points ,10 rebounds and a career-high 16 assists. It’s his second triple double of the postseason.
“I don’t want to go home,” Westbrook said. “We fought to hard to get to this point. We too hard to get ourselves in a position to come back home in front of our fans and let them down.”
In only his second game as a starter, Caron Butler added 15 points.
Playing without their leading scorer Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies went to Marc Gasol to carry them. He led the team with 24 points but was held to two rebounds. He made only one field goal after the first period. Mike Conley chipped in with 20 points and nine assists, despite playing on a bad hamstring.
With the home crowd behind them, the Thunder came out the gates swinging. They led by 11 before the first time out. But the Grizz didn’t waste any time going on a run of their own and taking the lead. Behind Gasol’s post skills and the Thunder’s seven turnovers, Memphis led 36-27 after 12 minutes.
Conley found his way into the lane for tough layups. Oklahoma City couldn’t control him as Memphis pulled ahead by 11.
It was Oklahoma City’s defense that finally began to assert itself midway through the second quarter. Westbrook made a highlight worthy block that brought the fans to their feet while forward Serge Ibaka shut down Gasol the final three quarters.
But it was Durant ‘s shooting that put the Thunder ahead 61-58 at halftime. That included a 3-pointer right before the buzzer sounded.
Oklahoma City began the third on a 17-5 run. Durant drained a couple of more shots from behind the arc to ignite the crowd.
Memphis kept taking advantage of the Thunder turnovers and didn’t let the score get out of hand.
But, in the end, the Grizzlies ran out of horses and had no answer for a man who was seemingly on a mission.
“You guys (media) motivated me a little bit, even though I told you didn’t,” Durant said. “I really looked at all my guys in their eyes and didn’t want to let them down. They didn’t think of it that way, but I didn’t want to let them down. I just wanted to play as hard as I could no matter what.”
By Michael Kinney
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