Key Adjustments Put Momentum Squarely With OKC

Thursday, May 1st 2014, 11:31 pm
By: News 9

Cancel the amber alert. We've found the Oklahoma City Thunder, and with them, Kevin Durant.

Oklahoma City found itself on Thursday, playing inspired basketball to wipe Memphis off the court, 104-84, to send the series to a deciding Game Seven at home on Saturday night.

Everything about this game was different for the Thunder. Ball movement was better, energy was better, the Thunder's stars were better. Even Scott Brooks was better, starting Caron Butler and sitting Thabo Sefolosha on the bench for the entire game.

The result was the Thunder's best win of the series, yes, even better than Game One. It was also the first non-Game Seven elimination game OKC has won in its brief history. The Thunder came into Thursday night 1-4 in elimination games, the only win a Game Seven win over these same Grizzlies in 2011.

The most obvious reason for the Thunder's improvement was the play of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Dubbed as "Mr. Unreliable" on Thursday, Durant responded with a 36-point, 10-rebound performance on an 11-of-23 shooting performance. Durant looked like his normal self, sinking fadeaway jumpers and hammering down breakaway dunks.

Related Story: Pretty Dang Reliable: Durant's 36 Leads Thunder To Game 7

Westbrook went for 25 points on 9-of-21 shooting. Together, the two players took 44 of the Thunder's 75 shots, a much better ratio than what had been showing up in the stat sheet the previous five games.

Guess Scotty Brooks was right. The Thunder did just need to make shots. But it played better defensively as well, making the final even more lopsided.

However, the adjustments Brooks made may have made the biggest difference. Inserting Butler into the starting lineup instead of Sefolosha put a much more dangerous offensive player on the floor from the get-go, forcing Memphis to account for him on defense. The result was a more open court for the Thunder and OKC took advantage, shooting 56.1 percent in the first half and 49.3 percent for the game.

Brooks said after the game Butler would remain the starter going forward. He didn't say how long that would be, but with Sefolosha's contract expiring at the end of the season, it's possible he has played his last meaningful minutes in a Thunder uniform.

Brooks also inserted Steven Adams for 20 minutes of court action and the athletic rookie put on a show. Adams blocked five shots, including one spike off the backboard that was more reminiscent of Karch Kiraly than a basketball player, and played terrific defense on Zach Randolph. Adams played a huge part in holding Randolph to just two points in the second half, and even added Z-Bo to his victims list, causing the Memphis star to nearly go to blows with the big Kiwi in the fourth quarter.

It's admirable for Brooks to stick by his guys to give them the best chance possible to succeed, but if he had made some of these adjustments earlier in the series, it probably wouldn't have gone seven games. Yet, here we are.

Just two days ago, the Thunder seemed dead in the water, but now the Thunder has momentum and home court on its side. The Grizzlies may also be without point guard Mike Conley, who left the game in the third quarter with a right hamstring strain. He returned for about thirty seconds before calling it quits for the night. If Conley is unable to play, the point guard position falls squarely on the shoulder of Beno Udrih.

After a frustrating first five games, it finally seems like the breaks are going the Thunder's way. Maybe it's enough to avoid a monumental letdown.