OKLAHOMA CITY — Kevin Durant scored 21 second-half points to lead Oklahoma City past Memphis 93-91 on Sunday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena and give the Thunder a 1-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinal series.
Trailing 90-87, Oklahoma City came up with a stop on defense. Durant drove downcourt and hit a jumper to close the gap to one point with 30 seconds left.
Once again the Thunder defense made a defensive play. Derek Fisher deflected the ball to Durant. Then, with Tayshaun Prince in his face, Durant drained a long jumper to give Oklahoma City a 91-90 advantage with 11.1 seconds on the clock.
Memphis attempted to go to Marc Gasol, who passed it back out to Mike Conley. But Thabo Sefolosha forced the Grizzlies into a turnover with 3.5 seconds left.
"In any situation, (Durant) is going to be tough to guard," Memphis guard Mike Conley said. "But obviously, when they didn't call a time-out, it is tough to guard a guy when you've got a team backing up and you are trying to set up a defense. Either way we were going to have our hands full."
Memphis fouled Reggie Jackson to send the second-year pro to the line under pressure. He calmly drained both free throws, putting the Thunder up by three.
However, Jackson fouled Memphis' Quincy Pondexter while attempting a 3-pointer with 1.6 seconds left. With a chance to tie the score, he missed two and the Thunder held on.
Game 2 is 8:30 p.m. Tuesday in Oklahoma City.
Durant finished with 35 points, 15 rebounds and six assists.
"I had to make a shot," Durant said. "My teammates did a great job of believing in me."
Kevin Martin came off the Thunder bench to score 25 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field. Jackson added 12 points.
Gasol paced Memphis with 20 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. Zach Randolph scored 18 points and had 1o rebounds. Conley chipped in with 13 points and three assists.
Oklahoma City couldn't have started the game any worse than it did. They missed their first eight shots from the floor and spotted the Grizzlies a 7-0 advantage before the first time-out.
But Durant began to assert himself. There had been talk before the game that Prince could guard Durant by himself and free up the rest of the Grizzlies defenders. Durant put that to rest quickly with 10 points in the first quarter.
However, Memphis still led 16-14 heading into the second quarter.
Memphis went to Randolph in the second to settle the game down. He worked his way into the paint for a couple of soft jumpers over the Thunder big men.
Martin continued his hot shooting from Game 6 against the Rockets. He came out of the first-round series with more confident in his offensive skills. Instead of just settling for open 3-pointers, he began to take defenders off the dribble and create his own shot.
Oklahoma City led 47-46 at halftime.
Memphis owned the start of the third quarter. A 17-6 run was a continuation of the issues the Thunder have had coming out of halftime in the postseason.
It was the Grizzlies' perimeter players that got the run started. Pondexter and Prince each knocked down open shots as the Oklahoma City defense sagged into the paint.
Despite that, Oklahoma City had a opportunity to get to within five with Martin at the free throw line and only three seconds on the clock. However, he missed the second attempt and Pondexter made him pay with a half-court shot as the quarter expired. Memphis led 73-64, but couldn't hold on.
"I liked the way we stuck with our defense," Durant said. "We bounced back and were resilient through it all. That shows maturity in our group. When we needed a stop, we got it."
Kinney writes for The Norman Transcript, a CNHI publication,