Tonight the Oklahoma City Thunder face the Memphis Grizzlies in must win game for the Thunder. The Thunder are in a 3-2 hole in the first round series and are facing elimination tonight if they lose.
Kevin Durant has been in a shooting slump over the past 2 games, averaging just 40% from the field. In a local paper in Oklahoma City called The Oklahoman a headline read, “Mr. Unreliable”, in reference to Durant. The Thunder fan’s don’t share this sentiment, memories can’t be that short, but Durant’s play as of late has been somewhat unreliable.
In the 24-hour news cycle of today, a win tonight behind Durant would change the headlines for tomorrow to “Mr. Reliable”. Durant just has to play up to- and possibly beyond- his normal level of play. Durant is normally a reliable player on whom his teammates usually lean. But the coupling of Durant’s slump and Russell Westbrook’s slump places the Thunder in a hole that the rest of the team can’t get out of. The Thunder need their 2 best players to play like they did all season long.
Going into tonight’s elimination game Durant is 1-4 in such games. In these 5 games he has averaged just a hair under 39% shooting from the field, which is well below his shooting average of 46% during all his other playoff games. The stats show that Durant, when faced with the extreme pressure of being eliminated from the playoffs, has folded. But 5 games is a very small sample size and no conclusions can be drawn from such a small amount of games.
Tonight’s game will be another elimination game for Durant and everyone will be watching to see how he respond’s to the pressure and if his previous stats bear out. But if Durant play’s a great game and the Thunder win then all is forgiven, until game 7, in which all opinions will hinge.
The Thunder were bounced from the playoffs last year by this same Grizzlies team and they don’t want to relive that bad memory. Losing to the same team 2 years in a row is bad enough, but this season the Thunder are the #2 seed and the Grizzlies are the #7 seed, so the Thunder were favored and expected to win. Losing to the #7 seed in the first round would mean another disappointing season for the Thunder. And this Thunder team has to strike while the iron is hot because the NBA changes rapidly and before they know it; the team’s roster could be shaken up.