Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant thoroughly, easily – and, yes, reliably – dismantles Grizzlies in Game 6


The Oklahoman. Tony Allen. An elimination game in the Grindhouse.

Kevin Durant faced pressure from all directions.

Yet, the the Oklahoma City Thunder relied on their MVP-to-be to extend their season. And it worked!

Mr. UnReliable scored 36 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the Thunder’s 104-84 Game 6 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday.

Durant earned a stay of scrutiny, though only temporarily. The Oklahoman’s point, even if initially miscommunicated, was accurate. Durant had not been reliable throughout this series. A cold Game 7 on Saturday against the battered and bruised Grizzlies – Mike Conley left the game with an injury – and the criticism of Durant will return in greater force than ever.

But, until proven otherwise, Durant has earned the benefit of the doubt. Reliability is not proven in five games, and adding Durant’s Game 6 (11-of-17 on 2-pointers, 0-for-6 on 3-pointers and 14-of-15 on free throws) to the scale tips it in a different direction.

This was not Durant’s best game,  mostly because that bar is absurdly high. He was just reliably good when his team’s season was on the line.

Durant needed barely more than 14 minutes to score 18 points, doing most of that damage before his defensive nemesis, Allen, even entered the game. Allen later had his moments, but Durant was not nearly as bothered as he’d been previously.

The Thunder leading by at least 15 for the final 25 minutes also helped keep Durant comfortable.

Russell Westbrook (25 points on 9-of-21 shooting, nine rebounds, five assists, three steals and four turnovers) provided his usual compromise – sometimes-erratic, but much-more-often-effective, play.

Scott Brooks’ decision to start Caron Butler over Thabo Sefolosha paid off with Butler spacing the floor by making 2-of-4 3-pointers. Many wanted Reggie Jackson inserted into the starting lineup instead, but Brooks kept Jackson in the second unit, and the point guard scored 16 points on 4-of-5 3-point shooting.

Serge Ibaka (four blocks) and Steven Adams (five blocks) anchored a defense that held the Grizzlies to 37 percent shooting and a series-low 84 points. Of course, ending the game after the fourth quarter helped keep Memphis’ scoring down.

For the first time in five games, the Thunder and Grizzlies didn’t play overtime – and that reminded us of something that was getting lost

The Thunder are better than Memphis.

They were better all season, and they’re better now. Not so much better that they’ll necessarily win Game 7, but better.

Oklahoma City has won games in this series by 14 points and 20 points. That leaves four overtime – i.e., coin-flip – games, three of which the Thunder lost. Had they won one more of those, this series would be over. You can claim “What if?” about overtime games, not 14- and 20-point losses.

Wednesday, Marc Gasol (17 points) and Zach Randolph (16 points), but by the end of the game, they were sitting sullenly on the bench. More worrying, Conley was in the locker room.

Conley went to the lock room late in the third quarter with a right hamstring strain. He returned for 56 seconds in the fourth quarter, but then he went back the locker room for the rest of the game.

The Grizzlies point guard struggled Wednesday (2-for-10 shooting), but it’s difficult to see Memphis winning a Game 7 on the road without him. He’s a major plus on both ends of the floor – especially for a team that already lost its backup point guard, Nick Calathes, to suspension.

In 18 playoff games against each other in the last four years, including 308 minutes in this series, the Thunder and Grizzlies have grown tired of each other. Butler and James Johnson got into a tizzy, drawing a double technical foul, and Randolph and Adams later had to be separated. Play got chippy at points, even though the lack of drama in the game’s result probably eased tension.

The battle hasn’t ended. We have, at least, 48 minutes left in what’s been a mostly well-played series.

Durant proved tonight the Thunder can rely on him when it matters most, but he proved it only for a night. Now, Saturday matters most.

Is Kevin Durant reliable? It’s a question he’ll answer – again – in Game 7.

Popovich to Aldridge: “Welcome to the Spurs. Go sit” out practice.

LaMarcus Aldridge
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Gregg Popovich’s habit of resting key players at times has become the norm around the league as more and more studies have shown it helps players perform at higher levels plus helps reduce injury risk. Still, Popovich is the poster child.

New Spur LaMarcus Aldridge wasn’t used to this but got introduced to it in a very Popovich way, reports Jeff McDonald at the Express-News.

LaMarcus Aldridge missed his first workout of training camp today with leg tightness. Or rather, the Spurs — being the Spurs — held him out for precautionary reasons.

“We sat him out,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “He didn’t want to do it. I said, ‘Welcome to the Spurs. Go sit.’”

He might as well have added “get used to this.” Aldridge is going to get some rest this season. Not as many as Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker, but he’s going to get some nights off.

Remember, Aldridge is a guy who played through a torn ligament in his thumb last season because he thought the Blazers could make noise in the playoffs (and they might have had Wesley Matthews not gotten hurt). He’s not a guy used to being told to sit and rest.

It’s his “Welcome to the Spurs” moment.

Ben Gordon goes vegan for a stint, notices improved energy

Orlando Magic v Golden State Warriors
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Ben Gordon ate avocados any time of day for their healthy fat, and also fueled his workouts with oatmeal and different juices or nutrient-rich smoothies.

Gordon went the vegan route – no dairy or meat – for a stretch a few months back.

“With that diet you have to kind of be creative,” the new Golden State guard said. “At that time I had a chef so it was a little bit easier.”

Gordon is back to a more “normal” diet as the season gets underway and he looks to play a part on the defending NBA champions.

He is eating meat again to gain back some of the weight he lost as a vegan for about the final six weeks of the season last spring and several weeks of the offseason. He needed a bit more strength to handle the rigors of an NBA schedule, yet his energy increased on the diet and he felt “a lot lighter and faster.”

The 6-foot-2 Gordon got down to his high school weight of 185, but noticed he wasn’t quite as strong and built himself back up to his typical playing weight at around 200 pounds.

“I experimented with that this summer and throughout the end of last season,” he said. “As you get older you try to see different things that work for you. I’m not doing it right now but I kind of use it functionally depending how my body feels. But with all the running, protein is hard to come by sometimes when you’re doing the vegan thing. I just like to mix it up.”

The 32-year-old Gordon, a London native and the third overall pick by Chicago out of Connecticut in 2004, averaged 6.2 points last season with Orlando. He enters his 12th NBA season looking to give Golden State another reliable shooter coming off the bench – something the Warriors have wanted.

Gordon wanted to be part of a winning situation, and he got that all right.

“You always have to prove yourself,” he said. “With this team, they won a championship so for me it’s just trying to mesh with the guys and not try to do too much. The league is so much about being in the right situation, being with the right group of guys that mesh with your talents and skills. This team here, the style of play is just a lot of ball movement and unselfish play, and they’re not shy about shooting so I think that’s right up my alley. They don’t have a guy on the bench who shoots a high arc from the 3-point line.”

Sure, committing to be a role player might be considered a risk for a guy who has long been a starter, yet Gordon is confident he will find his place on the defending champions and, he hopes, help the Warriors make another special postseason run.

“He’s been around a long time but he’s still got gas in the tank,” coach Steve Kerr said prior to taking a leave of absence last week to fully recover from back surgery. “He’s a good shooter, good scorer. You don’t have to have a traditional point guard in that role because Shaun (Livingston) and Andre (Iguodala) off the bench handle the ball. So he would be a good fit.”

Gordon played all 82 games in four different seasons, including three times in his initial five years with Chicago and again for Detroit in 2010-11. Yet Gordon has played as many as 75 games just once since with Charlotte in 2012-13 and averaged only 14.1 minutes last season with the Magic.

Not that anybody’s counting.

“I think he’s going to use this year to get another long deal,” said swingman and Finals MVP Iguodala, who made his pitch to Gordon to join Golden State while in Las Vegas this summer.

With the Warriors’ up-tempo style, Gordon plans to be patient and knows shots will find him given the way Golden State moves the ball.

“The last few years for me have been tough, but I think I fit in well here,” he said. “I’m taking my chances here. I’m not shy about this opportunity. It’s a great one.”

Oh, and he can’t wait to engage in some regular shooting competitions with NBA MVP Stephen Curry.

“It’s great to be out there with another great shooter,” Gordon said. “Just to see the way he works, how hungry he is. Even though I’m a vet, a few years older, I’m still picking up things and learning as I’m going along.”