The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Sports

April 26, 2014

Thunder upbeat despite 2-1 deficit

MEMPHIS —  Kevin Durant insists he and Russell Westbrook aren’t turning their first-round series into a two-man show, even if the NBA scoring champ says they may be shooting too much.

Durant and his Oklahoma City teammates agree those shots will fall.

Tonight in Game 4 would be a good time to start, or the Thunder could find themselves on the brink of playoff elimination in the opening round for the first time since 2010.

“I just didn’t make shots,” Durant said Friday after practice. “That’s the name of the game. But I liked the way I cut, I liked the way I was aggressive. But I have to do a better job of maybe passing the ball a little bit more and also making shots. I’ve got to stay confident in myself.”

Durant and Westbrook each scored 30 points in Thursday night’s 98-95 overtime loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, combining to go 19 of 53 or a majority of the 87 shots the Thunder took. Worse, they were a chilling 4 of 21 beyond the arc with Durant missing all eight of his attempts.

Thunder center Kendrick Perkins said that won’t happen again.

“KD is obviously the league MVP and we expect him to be the MVP down the stretch,” Perkins said.

Memphis has been making Durant and Westbrook work hard for shots by crowding the paint while holding the Thunder below 40 percent shooting in back-to-back games. Now the Grizzlies have the same 2-1 lead they had a year ago in the semifinals against Oklahoma City after consecutive overtime wins.

Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said they want to limit the easy shots and hope Durant and Westbrook miss some.

“They’re going to get them up,” Joerger said.

Durant and Westbrook weren’t alone. Oklahoma City went 5 of 28 for a chilling 17.9 percent. That was just the seventh time in the playoffs the Thunder have shot 20 percent or less from 3 since moving to Oklahoma City, and three came against the Grizzlies.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks said the Grizzlies have been forcing them to take some of the 3s by crowding three and four players around the paint. Oklahoma City can loosen up Memphis by hitting some of those

“The ones we’re trying to eliminate and hopefully we do that next game, are the ones that are off the dribble with the no passes. Those are the tough ones. Those are the ones that we don’t want. The ones we like, and we’re going to have to be able to step up and make, are the ones when they’re packing the paint.”

Still, the Thunder, who posted the NBA’s second-best record, remain confident.

“It’d be different if we got blown out or we feel like we didn’t have a chance to win,” Westbrook said. “We’re in a good place.”

So are the Grizzlies.

They now have won four of the last six playoff games against Oklahoma City, including four straight on their home court. The Thunder’s lone win here in the postseason needed three overtimes in Game 4 of their 2011 semifinal.

Not even going to overtime after blowing fourth-quarter leads has bothered Memphis, which has been pushing for the playoffs since January once center Marc Gasol returned from a sprained left knee. The Grizzlies went 10-4 in games decided by three points or less as one of only four teams with double-digit wins in one-possession games.

Conley called tonight the next most important game of the season.

“We know they’re not going to go away,” Conley said. “They’re going to fight and do whatever they can to win the series.”

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