Kevin Durant hit a pull-up jumper with 11.1 seconds left in the fourth quarter to help send the Thunder to a 93-91 victory in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.
Durant took control of things in the fourth quarter, where he scored 12 of his game high 35 points.
This was a great win for the Thunder, but it was a lost opportunity for the Grizzlies more than anything else. Memphis built a third quarter lead of as many as 12 points, and led by seven points midway through the fourth. But Durant closed the game by personally outscoring the Grizzlies 10-7 the rest of the way, while the Thunder finished on a 16-7 run to seal the victory.
Oklahoma City did a lot of things well in Game 1, and undoubtedly gained some confidence against a Grizzlies team many expected to win this series before it started. Kendrick Perkins was excellent defensively against Marc Gasol inside, particularly in the second half. Kevin Martin provided a much needed scoring boost for the Thunder for the second straight game, pouring in 25 points off the bench, 23 of which came in the game’s first three quarters.
The Thunder won the rebounding battle thanks to 15 from Durant, and seven each from Perkins and Martin to offset the 10 the Grizzlies got from both Gasol and Zach Randolph. Oklahoma City successfully packed the paint and limited the Grizzlies’ two biggest weapons inside, and as Memphis kicked it out to try to find open looks, they ended up shooting an uncharacteristically high 19 times from three-point distance, while connecting on just seven of those attempts.
The Grizzlies are going to need to win on the road in this series if they are to win it, and Game 1 had all the makings of an upset. Memphis had its chances, and even led late. They’ll need a stronger performance from Mike Conley moving forward, who finished just 5-of-15 from the field in this one, and (along with Randolph) has been the reason for the Grizzlies’ success to this point in the postseason.
But they can’t allow the game to be this close down the stretch. Because as he did in this one, Durant will simply take matters into his own hands and make sure his team ends up on the winning side.
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The Heat and Bosh need to come to common ground on this before training camp opens. Bosh is on blood thinners for his condition, the team and he need to decide if he can come off them on game days or if there is another protocol that works for everyone.
The Heat would be a vastly better team with Bosh on the court this season, but that didn’t motivate them to bring him back during the playoffs last season (even though he wanted to). Whatever happens, Bosh wants to play.
Former Nuggets coach Bernie Bickerstaff talks when Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf sat for Anthem
Twenty years before Colin Kaepernick made his stand by sitting for the national anthem during preseason games — something he has every right to do: if we are going to force compliance in our rituals of allegiance how are we different as a nation than the countries we rail against for forced indoctrination? — the NBA had Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.
For those that don’t remember, Abdul-Rauf was a good NBA guard and a member of a Denver Nuggets in the mid-1990s. He had converted to being a Muslim during his playing career. As his faith and beliefs grew, he came to view the flag as a symbol of oppression. In the middle of the 1995-96 season, he told the NBA he would no longer stand for the anthem. Everything was kept quiet for a while, but when the PR storm hit it led to a few strange days — the league suspended him at one point — before was a compromise where he would stand for the anthem but pray into his hands during it.
Bernie Bickerstaff was the coach of the Nuggets at the time and went on SiriusXM NBA Radio Monday to talk about those days. His first reaction was that of virtually every coach who has heard or talked about Kaepernick.
“Distractions,” Bickerstaff said. “It caused a lot of distractions, and you know at that point the number of media members was not quite as resounding as it is today. But still, it was a distraction.”
Bickerstaff said he was blindsided byAbdul-Rauf’s decision, and he said they scrambled to deal with the fallout. He said he and the brain trust of the team eventually had a meeting with the guard and told him if he wanted to be on the team he had to stand for the anthem.
“We had him come in, to sit down and have a conversation, and the conversation was about, the one thing that we have in this life is freedom of choice, and with that choice comes consequences. And my conversation with him was simply that one of the guys I probably admired most at that time was Muhammad Ali, because not only did he make a decision not to step forward but it was the part of it, the things that he gave up, and our message basically to (Abdul-Rauf) was ‘Hey, that’s the guy I admire. If you really feel that way then you go home, and you give us a call and let us know you’re willing to walk away from that contract, and then I can really, really, respect that…
“When he got home, we got a call and he said ‘I think I want to be on the trip.’ And that’s our understanding, if you’re on the trip, then you’re standing.”
The NBA came in with a more fair compromise.
If this were to happen again with the NBA, it would be interesting to see how Adam Silver would handle this compared to the heavy-handed David Stern.