There are few teams that would be able to withstand the loss of their second leading scorer and a perennial all-star of Russell Westbrook‘s caliber. Unfortunately for the Oklahoma City Thunder, they proved to not be one of those teams.
It was widely predicted that the Thunder would have a tough task of advancing in the postseason once Westbrook went down with a torn meniscus after the second game of the first round. Although Oklahoma City had enough firepower left to squeak passed the Houston Rockets, the same didn’t hold true against the Memphis Grizzlies stingy defense.
Westbrook’s fill in Reggie Jackson played well in stretches for the Thunder, but his inexperience was evident late in close games. Reserve guard Kevin Martin was unable to knock down jumpers consistently throughout the series. Serge Ibaka appeared lost at times against the Grizzlies. Kendrick Perkins again proved to be a non-factor.
With the Thunder’s role players struggling to step up to the challenge, superstar Kevin Durant was left with little help against a defense that was focused on shutting him down first and foremost. As valiant as an effort that Durant put forth over the first four games in the series — a span where he averaged 30.8 points, 11 rebounds and 6.8 assists — he looked exhausted and couldn’t find his shooting touch in the deciding game five, shooting 5-21 and missing a crucial jumper that could have sent the game into overtime.
The Thunder can learn from this outcome. Westbrook’s absence may have led to their elimination, but Jackson gained valuable playoff experience and now knows what it takes to be an impact player on a contender. Ibaka now recognizes that he still needs to work on his game.
But no one will learn more from this than Durant. The lanky forward knows that he can’t do it all alone, but you can bet that Durant will come back next season even hungrier than ever before. For some players, losing a series in disappointing fashion such as this is all it takes.