By Jeff Latzke
OKLAHOMA CITY —
Kevin Durant insists he can carry as much as Thunder coach Scott Brooks wants to heap onto his shoulders with Russell Westbrook injured and out for the rest of the playoffs.
The Memphis Grizzlies are testing that theory.
The Grizzlies were able to largely neutralize Durant’s supporting cast in Game 2, pulling out a 99-93 victory Tuesday night to tie the Western Conference semifinals at 1-1.
Durant nearly did it all for Oklahoma City. He led the team in scoring (36), rebounds (11) and assists (nine) and also blocked a shot and came up with one of the Thunder’s three steals. What he couldn’t do was finish off a superb performance after Memphis went ahead in the final 2 minutes.
Instead of calling on his teammates to pitch in, Durant is demanding even more of himself.
“I always can do more,” Durant said. “I’ve got to put my teammates in better positions to score. I turned the ball over some where I thought I could have made better passes, shot some shots I should have drove or should have got closer. But I always can be better.”
How much more the Thunder can lean on one man remains to be seen.
Oklahoma City made it through the first round without Westbrook, getting 25 points from sixth man Kevin Martin to win at Houston in Game 6. But after scoring 25 again in the opener against Memphis, Martin made just 2 of 11 shots and had six points as the Thunder handed over home-court advantage to the Grizzlies.
Game 3 is Saturday in Memphis.
“We know what Kevin Durant is going to do. Our whole thing was just trying to come here and stop Martin,” said Tony Allen, who had five of Memphis’ 13 steals. “We keyed in on Martin (Monday) in the film, but Derek Fisher got it going. So when we go back to the drawing board, we’re going to have to scout Derek Fisher more and see how he was killing us.”
Fisher, the 38-year-old veteran who asked out of his contract with Dallas so he could be with his family before signing as a free agent with Oklahoma City, was about the only Thunder role player who came up big in Game 2. He scored 19 points — with 14 in the first half and a 3-pointer at the final buzzer — while the rest of Durant’s crew went 13 for 40 from the field.
Serge Ibaka had his third straight off game, although he improved on his dreadful 1-for-10 shooting in Game 1 to make 5 of 12 shots and score 11 points. Nick Collison, often the team’s most dependable reserve, had this unsightly stat line: no points, no rebounds, four turnovers and six fouls.
Perhaps even more than the scoring load, Durant needs more help on the boards. Memphis had a 43-35 rebounding edge in Game 2, turning 16 offensive rebounds into 23 second-chance points.
“We have to rebound the basketball. This is a rebounding series, and they understand that. We’ve talked about it enough,” Brooks said. “But you have to be able to do it every possession.”
Brooks’ counterpart, Lionel Hollins, wouldn’t take much credit for scheming to marginalize Martin’s impact. Just as he said Ibaka simply missed nine open jump shots in Game 1, Hollins said Wednesday that Martin “had some wide-open shots he didn’t make.”
And it’s not as if the Grizzlies are willing to let Durant do whatever he wants as long as no one else hurts them.
“You still can’t let him go and get 50,” Hollins said. “You want him to take a lot of shots. If he had 36 (Tuesday) night and he was 11 for 15 and had a few more free throws, it’s trouble. But we don’t want to put him on the free throw line and we want to make him work and take a lot of shots.
“It takes a lot of energy to be an offensive player, regardless of what people think, especially when you have the ball in your hand the majority of the time. We want to work him on that end. We want to work him on the defensive end.”
During the three-day break between games, Durant said he planned to look at film of his playmaking abilities for his teammates and “see how I can get some of these guys going.”
“I’m a leader. Guys are looking at me. So, if I hang my head, they’re going to hang their head, and that’s never good,” Durant said. “My individual game really doesn’t matter if we lose.”