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Friday Bolts – 5.2.14

Friday Bolts – 5.2.14
BoltsLogoNew1Ben Golliver of SI.com

: “Shaking up the starting lineup in search of better support for Durant and Westborok was a logical play, even if most assumed Brooks would prefer to go down with the guys who brought him to the dance. That he elected to swap in Butler rather than Reggie Jackson made this an even more surprising decision, as the Russell Westbrook/Butler/Durant/Serge Ibaka/Perkins lineup played together for just five minutes total during the regular season and another four minutes earlier in the series. Not only did Brooks break from his long-standing trust in his starters, he gambled on a refashioned unit with little shared experience because of Butler’s midseason arrival and a late-season injury to Perkins.”

Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com: “This was not the night to mess with Kevin Durant. Not if you were defending him, writing headlines about him or doubting him. Not even if you were the opposing ownership — Durant barked back and forth at Memphis Grizzlies investor Steven Kaplan during a stoppage in play in the first half. This, of course, is exactly the demeanor a player of Durant’s caliber is expected to display when facing an elimination game, as the Oklahoma City Thunder were Thursday. It would be assumed Durant would have to be dragged out of the playoffs fiercely against his will, not in the manner he’d slipped into over the past few games when he was inexplicably relegated to decoy duty in the fourth quarters.”

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Sean Highkin for Sports On Earth: “Durant is 25 years old and, at worst, the second-best basketball player in the world. In two years, he’ll hit the open market for the first time. Teams around the league will clear cap space to make a run at him in 2016, just as they did for LeBron James in 2010. Winning a title before then would solve everything, as it did for James, Bryant, Nowitzki and countless others. If he’s still ringless as a free agent and his new team stumbles out of the gate as the 2011 Heat did, get ready to hear phrases like “Has Durant really proven that you can build a championship team around him?” a lot. Should the Thunder prevail in Saturday’s Game 7 and advance, nobody will remember “Mr. Unreliable.” However, a loss — coupled with the foregone conclusion that is Durant’s MVP trophy — could lead to a long summer of legacy talk for a player who has been mercifully above such nonsense for seven years.”

Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com: “On this day, the only important question revolved around how Durant would respond to being criticized by his hometown paper, and the answer delivered was predictable. The world’s best scorer was awesome, and now, barring an upset Saturday, he’ll take a small-market franchise to the Western Conference semifinals for the fourth straight year, which, oddly, makes him one of the more reliable things in professional sports.”

Mama Durant: “On behalf of Kevin, our family, and the many fans that were offended by yesterday’s headline, I extend forgiveness to the Oklahoman.”

Berry Tramel: “Durant’s defense was no small thing. Scotty Brooks switched his starting lineup, inserting Caron Butler for Thabo Sefolosha, and it paid off famously. The big gamble is perimeter defense, Thabo’s forte, but Durant stood in the gap. He switched over from Tayshaun Prince to cover Memphis sharpshooter Courtney Lee, a much tougher assignment, and Lee was a non-factor. He finished with four points on 2-of-7 shooting. That lineup change spread Memphis’ defense and gave Durant more room to maneuver. Defensive demon Tony Allen was his usual pesky self, but Durant stayed on the attack. He made 14 of 15 foul shots and 11 of 23 shots from the field. That’s the kind of stat line that will send the Grizzlies screaming into the offseason.”

Steve Aschburner of NBA.com: “Things aren’t good for Memphis now. The Grizzlies head to OKC where, yes, they’ve won twice in three tries but where the Thunder were 34-7 in the season. That crowd there is a force with which to reckon, and getting blown out at home in what could have been a happy, clinching game was a lousy way to prepare. The grindiest thing in the Grindhouse Thursday was Memphis’ offense, sagging under its poor shooting (37.3 percent) and eventually from point guard Mike Conley‘s sprained right hamstring, injured in a third-quarter loose ball pile-up. He was done after 28 minutes and 2-for-10 shooting.”

Anthony Slater: “It’s tough to describe anything Russell Westbrook does (or wears) as quiet. It’s not in his vocabulary. But on Thursday night, he quietly had a really nice game. Darnell Mayberry wrote about it for the paper, which you can read here. But it’s worth noting again. There wasn’t much chatter about the way he played. But all night, he was smooth and composed while piling up another 25 points, nine rebounds and five assists. He played within himself and the offense all night. The aggressive drives and bursts of uncontrollable speed were still there, leading to made shots, missed shots, assists and turnovers. But it all came at the right time. His actions were decisive and smart. He only took two 3s, confidently stepping into makable mid-range shots, and masterfully balanced his desire to attack and the need to get others involved. A smart, composed game in a pressurized environment.”