Love him or hate him, but the absence of Russell Westbrook – or “Robin” as Patrick Patterson put it – proved to be the demise of Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder against the Memphis Grizzlies in the Conference semifinals.
Without the dominant but sometimes frustrating point guard, too much was asked of Durant, who was asked to create for himself and his teammates practically every time down the floor. The pressure seemed to finally weigh down on the forward, who was uncharacteristically bad in the elimination game on Wednesday: he shot 5-of-21 from the field, 11-of-15 from the stripe and turned the ball over seven times.
The Thunder made a frantic comeback in the final minutes of the game to have a chance to tie or take the lead with about 10 seconds left in the game. Durant took a free-throw line jump shot after shaking his defender, but seemed to rush the shot a bit – that was a common theme in this game with Memphis constantly hounding him with multiple defenders – and unfortunately missed his chance to help extend the series.
It was a tough moment for Durant, who was so hellbent on coming through for his team at all costs, regardless of the circumstances. For Westbrook, not being available to his team due to injury turned out to be the ultimate validation of his value to the Thunder and more importantly, to Durant.