Oklahoma City needed someone, anyone, to bring a renewed sense of urgency to the court for Game Four Saturday night against Memphis. Reggie Jackson answered the call.
After playing the first three games like he was Reggie Jackson, baseball player, Jackson broke out of his slump in a big way in Game Four, scoring a playoff career-high 32 points on 11-of-16 shooting from the field to send the series back to OKC tied at two apiece with a 92-89 overtime win.
It was a good thing, too, since Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook went 5-of-21 and 6-of-24 from the field, respectively, for 30 total points. Simply put, the Thunder needed every bit of Jackson's performance to win this game.
This has been a whacky series, but if you had Jackson outscoring Durant and Westbrook combined, well, you should probably go hit the blackjack tables.
When it was all over, Durant held Jackson in a very long embrace. It was a sign of what had just happened on the court: Jackson literally saved the Thunder's season and perhaps a small part of Durant's legacy, because who wants to accept the MVP award after being eliminated in the first round.
Jackson came into Saturday's game a combined 3-of-19 from the field for 15 points, but eclipsed that total by the third quarter. His performance was much-needed, not only to get the win, but also for Oklahoma City's confidence as a whole. Since Game One, no Thunder player has looked comfortable shooting the ball against the Grizzlies' ferocious defense. Jackson proved it's possible to still do that, and maybe that will open the floodgates for the rest of the team, which shot 22-of-74 on Saturday.
That the Thunder lost the second and third game of this series because of lackluster bench play is not a very difficult case to argue. Nothing illustrated that more than Jackson's putrid performance in those games, and perhaps he realized he may have cost his team a 3-0 lead.
Jackson was aggressive from the time he stepped on the court, slashing to the rim, hitting 3-pointers and a variety of floaters in the lane. He was clutch when he needed to be as well, hitting a 3-pointer and floater in the final minute to erase an 80-75 deficit and send the game to overtime.
OKC led, 64-50 with 26 seconds left in the third quarter and looked well on its way. But the Thunder collapsed defensively and went away from Jackson on offense, even though it was clear to everyone watching he was the only legitimate option for OKC on offense. Jackson made two free throws with 9:03 remaining and didn't take another shot until his 3-pointer with 59 seconds left cut the Memphis lead to 80-78.
Jackson's one head-scratching play was, um, interesting. As time wound down in regulation, Jackson corralled a loose ball and let fly a three-quarter court heave. Problem was he grabbed the rebound with 4.5 seconds left and gave up a terrific chance to win in regulation.
Jackson seemed inconsolable as he walked to the sidelines with his head down. Perhaps the best medicine came from Derek Fisher, who embraced him with a big smile on his face and some words of wisdom. After all, Jackson had no reason to hang his head. The Thunder would've lost by 20 without his performance.
In overtime, it was all about Jackson again. As Durant and Westbrook continued to struggle from the field, Jackson calmly hit one of his two attempts from the field and six free throws, four of those in the final 12 seconds to preserve a thrilling win for Oklahoma City.
So many people needed this performance from Jackson. He needed it; Durant needed it; Westbrook needed it; heck, even Scott Brooks needed it. But most importantly, the team needed it.
Because of Jackson, it's a new series. It will still be a fight to win four games, but perhaps this provided a much-needed boost to the Thunder's confidence.