Things could have been worse for Oklahoma City Thunder superstar, Kevin Durant. He could have put up a measly 11 points in Game 7 of his team’s series against the Memphis Grizzlies, not Game 6. He could have only made a single basket in the last 45 minutes of a closeout game for his squad, not simply a matinee.
Lucky for backpack-toting Durant, he’ll have a chance to redeem himself on the biggest stage of all in the first Game 7 of the 2011 NBA Playoffs. Looking back, it’s almost shocking that a postseason filled with so many twists and turns has not yet produced the most cherished and exciting event in all of sports, but here we are.
All series long the Thunder has essentially gone mano-a-mano with a younger version of themselves. Age in the league, of course, is more than just how old your players are. It’s experience. It’s respect. It’s whether or not you’ve earned your postseason keep – which both teams have done over the last two rounds.
One year ago, Durant’s bunch was the wet behind the ears up-and-comer, ready to force their way through the door being shoved closed by the league’s traditional powers. They -- not some ragtag team of misfits from Memphis -- were supposed to be the ones to usher in the new generation with a commanding performance against the Association's Mustache Petes.
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But first the San Antonio Spurs got defeated. Then, the Los Angeles Lakers. And neither event involved Oklahoma City driving a stake through the hearts of franchises that prior to this postseason just wouldn't die.
Thus, the Thunder now arrive at Game 7 facing off against the one opponent they didn't expect to see standing between them and a conference finals berth.
Don’t let the Grizzlies’ lack of cohesive playoff mileage fool you, though. They have been underestimated from the getgo, and it’s high time that people start admitting that what they’ve been watching is more than some prolonged aberration. Beginning with Zach Randolph -- 30 points and 13 rebounds in a must-win game on Thursday night -- and ending with the likes of O.J. Mayo, Tony Allen and Marc Gasol, this team is one to be reckoned with, and remains so regardless of what the ultimate result of Sunday’s outing turns out to be.
Memphis boasts an attack that is far more traditional than you would expect to see from a group headlined by the eccentric personalities of Randolph and Allen. Their grind-it-out style with two dominant big men -- who can create for themselves with ease -- serves as a reminder of what the Lakers were supposed to look like. The athletic wings, both in the starting line-up and coming off bench, can play suffocating defense with the best of them, as the Spurs can no doubt attest to.
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The only thing truly going against the Cinderella Grizzlies at this point has to be the fact that they will be playing on the road in the clincher. To date, squads that own the homecourt advantage in Game 7s are 21-7. Then again, Memphis has proven that they can step up and take a game on their opponents’ home floor when the situation requires it.
A win-or-go-home, best-of-one showdown fits the bill.
Two weeks after it began, the series that nobody expected to see -- but more than justified its worth with clutch players doing clutch things, countless OTs, Z-Bo being Z-Bo, Russell Westbrook popping off like Machine Gun Kelly, etc. -- is coming to an end. A winner will be crowned and a loser will be cast off. If the first six games of this war have been any indication, regardless of happens on Sunday, it will surely keep us talking for days.
Or at least under the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat play three hours later.