Everyone OK? Catch your breath? Rub the goosebumps down after watching that GIF? Soak it all in for a second.
The emotional roller coaster of this series was in full force on Saturday night, but the Oklahoma City Thunder somehow prevailed with a gritty, grinding, how-the-heck-did-they-do-it? 92-89 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Thunder was a minute away from having a larger crack in its foundation than ever before, with bigger questions regarding their future than ever before. Down five points, the offense had once again stalled out when it mattered most, and Memphis had just absolutely had their way with the Thunder defense in the fourth, at one point out-scoring the Thunder 26-11. With all of that at stake, with the season in the balance, with Scott Brooks' future in the balance, with the Westbrook/Durant partnership likely facing some serious scrutiny, the Thunder was saved by an unlikely hero.
Look, there's a lot of reasons why teams win basketball games, but this one? Round 1, Game 4 of the 2014 NBA Playoffs will always be the Reggie Jackson game.
Kevin Durant, after struggling with his shooting percentage in the first three games, played arguably his worst game of the entire season, and maybe the past few seasons, going just 5-for-21 for a paltry 15 points - the first time he finished with less than 20 since Dec. 21.
The Thunder can survive a KD clunker from time-to-time, mostly because they also have Russell Westbrook. The problem in this one was that Westbrook too struggled with his shot once again, finishing 6-for-24 with 15 points.
If you're doing the math, that's 30 points on 11--for-45 (24 percent) shooting from the Thunder's two biggest stars and a likely future MVP. You show those numbers to any Thunder fan, coach, player, executive, and say that's what Durant and Westbrook would combine for, they'd all assume it was a loss. Every single one of them.
That's how big Reggie Jackson was. The stat line is incredible in itself: 32 points on 11-for-16 shooting along with nine rebounds. That still doesn't begin to tell how huge Jackson was.
It was with the Thunder down five with a minute left, 80-75, that Jackson's game went from great to legendary. After another broken possession - which were entirely too prevalent in that fourth quarter, more on that later - there was Jackson, stuck with the ball 28 feet from the rim, heaving a prayer with the utmost confidence, and knocking down a gigantic 3-pointer to cut the Memphis lead to 80-78.
Durant then came up with a huge steal on the other end that gave the Thunder a chance to tie and force yet another overtime - the third straight in the series. The Thunder was out of timeouts so was forced to push the ball off the turnover, and Jackson ended up with the ball in his hands once again and calmly, cooly knocked down a floater over Marc Gasol. Tie game. Somehow, the Thunder still had a chance.
A whacky defensive possession ended with Jackson having the ball in his hand with 4 seconds left and the game tied with a chance to win it. That's what Jackson did something he hadn't done all night; he panicked. He fired up a near-full-court heave that thankfully bounced short enough and high enough for the clock to run out, despite having both Durant and Westbrook running out in front of him. It's unlikely Jackson would have had a much easier shot had he taken the couple extra dribbles to get off a better shot at the buzzer, but that didn't stop Jackson from feeling all kinds of awful about the decision.
Something special happened, though. The Thunder players, knowing the team wouldn't even be in overtime to begin with without Jackson, picked him up and refused to let him dwell on the mistake.
Say what you want about Derek Fisher, but that hug? That was a special moment. That confidence boost seemed to do the trick, too.
Overtime began with Durant hitting a jumper, but as the Grizzlies answered back, it was Jackson again rising to the occasion. Jackson scored 8 of the Thunder's 12 points in overtime, six of which from the free throw line, including four in the final 12 seconds in an incredibly pressure-packed situation.
That was that. Durant and Westbrook's struggles? Forgotten. The questioning of Scott Brooks? Forgotten. Wondering what type of offseason moves to make? Forgotten. All thanks to Reggie Jackson refusing to let his team lose.
That hug from the GIF up top was just one of many hugs the Thunder players bestowed up Jackson after the game. It was emotional, and it wasn't lost on anyone in the locker room. Just an incredible moment from a team that, had they lost, would have been picked apart at the seams. Instead, they stood together, and got out of Memphis with the series tied.
That's the most important thing about this game in the end, that it evened the series. That was the main goal coming into Memphis: Split on the road. No matter the negativity surrounding the team after that Game 3 disappointment, The Thunder accomplished their goal. Now it's back to OKC where they once again have home court advantage in what is now a Best-of-Three series.
They can hug Reggie Jackson some more for making it happen.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
The initial reaction is an overwhelming sense of joy for Reggie Jackson. It's hard to look at that image up top and not understand just how much it must mean for the guy. He's been a backup to Russell Westbrook since the start of his career, but had a tone of chances to shine in the spotlight during Westbrook's absence this year. He had his fair share of big moments, but he also saw his fair share of struggles as well. He went from being taken for granted, to appreciated, to sort-of-annoyed-with because of his inconsistency.
Add to that the fact that, after Games 1-3, the major plot line surrounding the Thunder (well besides the Scott Brooks stuff) was the inability for anyone else to score besides Westbrook and Durant.
Jackson had struggled, shooting just 3-for-21 for 15 points, and he was taking his own bit of heat for not taking better control of the second unit (I gave him a D- in the previous postgame grades post).
For Jackson to respond like this was gigantic. From a personal confidence standpoint certainly, but even more-so for the team. It should do wonders for the Thunder to know that their two stars can play as poorly as they did, and they still have someone they can turn to.
It should also open up options for the offense going forward. It was obvious that the team made an effort to get back to their free-flowing ways on offense. It resulted in more turnovers than in the previous three games, but as I've mentioned before, the turnovers aren't always bad because it means the Thunder is being aggressive.
Tonight, not only did the Thunder do a better job moving the basketball - at least through the first three quarters - guys like Reggie and Serge and Fisher did a better job making an impact in any way they could. Sure Durant and Westbrook still took the bulk of the shots, but the rest of the team seemed more willing to take a shot if needed and not simply defer to Russ or KD when things got hectic.
Yeah, most of that was Reggie, but it was reflective of the mentality as a whole. The Thunder will need that type of attitude to get a leg up on Memphis and take this series.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?
I've said all I can say about Reggie Jackson, but just know that he is the main reason, for all of the reasons stated above. One other reason would be - adding to what I just said - guys found ways to impact the game not just through scoring.
Durant came up with that huge steal at the end of regulation, but he also had 13 rebounds and two blocks. Even with his shot not falling, he didn't check out of the game and found ways to have an impact. Same goes for Westbrook, whose offensive rebounding was outstanding, particularly in the fourth quarter when the Thunder needed extra possessions to extend the game. Westbrook finished with nine rebounds, five of them offensive.
You can go down the list, too. Perkins continued his stellar defense on Randolph (who barely played the entire 4th quarter as a result), and was able to cool down Gasol after a stretch when he heated up and the Thunder needed to switch someone onto him to stop him. Ibaka had 14 boards and five blocks. Fisher had an emotional, confidence-saving hug.
The point is, the company line has always been "playing for each other" and you see ugly shooting numbers like the ones from tonight (except Reggie) and want to get on them for playing poorly. Except they didn't. I mean they did in the fourth quarter, and that certainly bears discussion, but in a series against a team that loves to talk about "grinding," it was the Thunder grinding a little harder and doing a little more of the dirty work to come out with a win.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
Free throw shooting. The Thunder shot 18-20 from the line, including 8-8 in that overtime period. The Grizzlies, by contrast, were 13-23 (56.5 percent) including two huge misses in overtime by MIke Miller.
It's an obvious observation to make, but it's still worth mentioning, if the Grizzlies just make their free throws, it is an entirely different game. Both teams have done a pretty nice job not getting into serous foul trouble in this series, and both have actually shot free throws pretty well. Tonight, though, for whatever reason, the Grizzlies couldn't knock theirs down. It became especially problematic as the game began to turn in the fourth quarter and Memphis had a chance to grow leads, but simply couldn't make the free throws to do so.
It was just another example of the breaks falling the Thunder's way, but they'll take it at this point.
One other one while we're here: So much was made about the Thunder's lack of ball movement after Game 3. Royce Young at Daily Thunder had a nice piece on how that sentiment wasn't necessarily true because it's how the Thunder have always played.
According to the SportVU player tracking stats, in Game 3, the Thunder passed it 230 times. In Game 4? 239. Not much of a difference.
The Grizzlies are a different story though. In game 3, they passed it 367 times as a team, compared to just 290 tonight. Credit OKC's defense to keying in the defense and making it harder for the Grizzlies to swing passes around in the halfcourt.
If the Thunder offense is going to struggle like it did tonight - and has all series, really - they need to make sure the defense is locked in so the Grizzlies can't have it easy on offense. Just glancing over the numbers, it seems they did just that tonight.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
It's funny how much can change literally in one minute. When the Thunder fell down 80-75 late, the dread was palpable, at least on my couch. Was this team really going to go down without a whimper once again? Was it really time for the Thunder to move on from Scott Brooks? Did that Brian kid with the awful haircut really steal KD's powers?
Then the Reggie Jackson takeover happened and all of those questions kind of went away. Now it wasn't about what the Thunder would do in the offseason - which, by the way, had they lost, it still wouldn't have been, and the Thunder could have still come back from 3-1, but who in their right mind would think they could do that if they dropped a third-straight heartbreaker.
Instead, it's about how the Thunder can build on this and finally overcome Memphis once and for all. I think, regardless of how you feel about Scott Brooks, he saved his job tonight. The team clearly competed for him and he made adjustments when he could.
He still has ways to go to overcome his own stubbornness, but some changes provide a glimmer of hope for the future. First, it took six years, but he finally found a way to stagger Russ and KD's first half minutes so that one of them was on the court at all times. You're not going to believe this, but it made things easier on the second unit. 22 bench points in the first half for the Thunder (compared to just 23 combined in Games 2 and 3).
Doing that opened things up for the offense and let guys like Jackson play in their comfort zone while still having Russ or KD as a crutch if necessary. Obviously, this rotational pattern helps if Russ and KD don't shoot horrendously, but the fact that he tried it is a good sign that maybe little Scottie is all growns up after all!
The other is that he brought back Steven Adams, who gave the Thunder the size they needed to stay matched up while adding a layer of athleticism on offense. Adams still has plenty of flaws, but he's immensely valuable in this series, even just for short spurts, and it's nice that Brooks still recognizes that. Well, maybe, because it took two games for him to realize it, and he still didn't play him in the second half.
And that's where the frustrations will continue. Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger still dictated the match-ups, choosing to go small in the fourth quarter with two guards. The Thunder's two-big lineups were having success through three quarters, but it was in going small in the fourth that Memphis got back in the game and almost sunk the Thunder.
Brooks matched right up, choosing to play Caron Butler down the stretch despite the fact that he continues one of the worst playoff performances of our time. You can understand why he maybe wouldn't want a rookie like Adams out there with the season on the line, but a lineup of something like Russ/Reggie/KD/Serge/Collison allows you plenty of speed and athleticism to match up with the smaller Grizzlies lineup while not playing completely into their hands having Butler out there.
What does all of it mean? The Thunder, somehow, is still growing. It's a good sign that Brooks is willing to try new things, but it's also frustrating that we're this far into a playoff series and Brooks is still letting the opposing coach dictate matchups.
In the end, the Thunder lives to fight another day. Lose the next one, and the questions about the future sprout right back up. But at least for a couple more days, the talk can be about how the Thunder just won a basketball game in which Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both shot terribly. Gotta believe they can build on that.
- Russell Westbrook postgame outfit watch: Game 4:
Russell Westbrook going with the Dwayne Wayne flip up sunglasses look pic.twitter.com/CBGndCOnvx— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) April 27, 2014
Grade: B+. After all-red in Game 1, all-turquoise in Round 2, all-white Jesus bathrobe in Game 3, it's nice to see Westbrook get flashy with it once again. Still waiting on the crazy shirt, though!
- Hey, who's that No. 12 guy checking in wearing a Thunder jersey?
- COLLISON CORNER 3!!!!
- Kevin Durant's two points in the first quarter tied a career low.
- Kendrick Perkins: great shooter, or great-EST shooter. Once again, his defense was terrific, and his offense wasn't a negative. As long as he in only taking smart shots, not dropping passes, making smart passes, and setting hard screens, he's doing his job. And he's done it beautifully in this series.
- That second quarter was full of highlights: Ibaka's block on Randolph, Westbrook's alley-oop to Ibaka, Westbrook's block on Randolph, Reggie's putback dunk, Westbrook's ridiculously deep three with 10 seconds left. I would embed all the videos here but it'd take an hour to scroll to the bottom.
- OK, fine, here's Westbrook's block at least because, well, he's the best.
Scott Brooks is the master of taking the timeout one possession too late. With OKC up 52-39, Gasol made a circus layup, then an elbow jumper to cut it to 52-43. That's when guys like Popovich and Carlisle take the timeout right there. They just cut it to single digits? Timeout, regroup. Not Scott Brooks. OKC went through a sloppy possession and turned it over and on the other end, Gasol capitalized with a dunk off his own offensive rebound. Lead down to seven, and only then did Brooks take the timeout.
Dave Joerger on his team's low field goal percentage after three quarters: "It's like an Eastern Conference game." SHOTS FIRED!
Was about to mention how annoying that "Gigantic" song is in that iPhone commercial, but found out it's a classic by the Pixies? I'm young, you guys, sorry.
You'll notice how the clipboard started positive and then just turned to nothing. It's because I do this thing in the flow of the game. As that fourth quarter began slipping away, I just kind of stopped moving.
This was the first series to go to three straight OTs since Chicago/Boston in 2009. That series was awesome. Remember when Derrick Rose used to play basketball?
OH MY GOD THE FANS ARE CHANTING "REG-GIE" WHILE JA ADANDE INTERVIEWS HIM I WANT TO CRY I'M SO HAPPY.
Caron Butler with a solid quote about Reggie Jackson's big night: pic.twitter.com/26y2bCyws1— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) April 27, 2014
Thunder Wonder: Reggie Jackson. REGINALD JACKSON! I'm so gushy about Reggie Jackson.
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka: 12 points, 14 rebounds, 5 blocks.
Thunder Blunder: Caron Butler: 6 points (2-6 shooting), 2 rebounds, 1 assist, -7 (the only negative player rating on the entire Thunder roster)
Thunder Plunderer: Marc Gasol: 23 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists
Game 5, vs. Memphis Grizzlies. Tues. April 29 8:00 PM Central Standard Time