Maybe the Oklahoma City Thunder need negative headlines about Kevin Durant more often.
Just one day after falling behind the Memphis Grizzlies 3-2 in the first round of the playoffs, The Oklahoman published an article about Durant on their front page, with a big bolded title of “Mr. Unreliable”. Durant downplayed the significance of the article before both Games 6 and 7, but after leading his team to the second round, he was willing to admit that it got to him.
“You guys motivated me a little bit even though I told you that you didn’t,” Durant said during his press conference following the Thunder’s 120-109 victory over the Grizzlies.
This has been a long week for Durant and the Thunder, facing doubters due to their inability to score against a tough and physical Grizzlies defense. Durant, who averaged 32 points per game, was averaging a very inefficient 28 points on 40 percent shooting through Game 5. His three point stroke seemed lost and he was routinely missing shots he hits in his sleep.
Then came the article. While it certainly may not have just been the headline that motivated him, it certainly helped Durant focus. After some extremely rough games that saw him miss every three pointer he took or score just 15 points, Durant put Thunder on his back and carried them to two straight wins to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals.
Game 6 saw an aggressive Durant, knowing his team was backed against the wall and playing for their lives in a hostile arena. Durant scored 36 points on 11-23 shooting and added 10 rebounds. Game 7 brought a new confident Durant, one that hadn’t been seen since Game 1. He scored 33 points on 12-18 shooting, as well as a perfect 5-5 from deep.
But of course, it was not only Durant who changed his game to avoid elimination. The good Russell Westbrook emerged during Games 6 and 7, finding the open man, making athletic plays and not forcing any shots. He played with poise and smarts that he occasionally lacked earlier in the series. Westbrook scored 25 points to go with nine rebounds and five assists in Game 6. He capped off the series with 27 points on just 16 shots along with 10 rebounds and 16 assists, his second triple double of the series and third in his playoff career. Coincidentally, his other playoff triple double was also against the Grizzlies, in a 2011 Game 7.
The Thunder avoided a major letdown, advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. They will take on the Los Angeles Clippers, who beat the Golden State Warriors in their own Game 7 later on Saturday night. The season series was a great one, with the teams splitting four meetings and the Thunder only outscoring the Clippers by four points in total. And if the Thunder ever find themselves pushed to the brink of elimination again, fans should remember one thing: Don’t count out Mr. Reliable.
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