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Fran Blinebury

Kevin Durant (right) and Russell Westbrook (left) kept the Thunder together in a wild Game 4 win.
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Toughing out triple-OT gives Thunder a chance to grow up

Posted May 10 2011 10:14AM

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- You can measure growth in feet and inches, pounds and ounces.

Or just count the scars.

You can measure growth in minutes and hours and days, weeks, months and years.

Or simply remember the experiences.

Somewhere out there in the near or distant future, if and when the best-laid plans and potential reach full bloom, this was the night the Thunder will always look back on.

Years from now when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are old men, this is the one tale they'll never get tired of telling.

The night it came together. The game they wouldn't let die.

"Oh, it was a fun game," said Westbrook.

"Probably the biggest game of my life," said Durant.

Maybe the game when a young team that talks about one day winning a championship learns it just might have the right stuff.

Growth is a 133-123 triple-overtime victory over the Grizzlies that will go down in the NBA annals and, more important, could be pressed into the Thunder's DNA for the next time they have doubts.

Growth is taking an early wallop from Memphis that put them into an 18-point hole in the second quarter and finding a way to climb back to within four at halftime.

Growth is blowing their own 10-point lead in the final 5 minutes of regulation and not buckling their knees.

Growth is watching the Grizzlies' Mike Conley Video hit a nerveless step-back 3-pointer with 3.5 seconds left that forced the first overtime, then seeing Video Greivis Vasquez heave in another on a ridiculous spinning shotput toss to force the second overtime and not falling over in disbelief.

By the end of a searing playoff game that lasts three hours, 52 minutes, straddles two dates on the calendar and leaves 18,119 fans wondering if they'll get home before morning or Memorial Day, it becomes less a test of who can win and more a matter of who will give in first.

"Yeah, I think it is," said Westbrook, who played 51 minutes to get 40 points, five assists and five rebounds. "It was one of those games where in the first overtime, it's like, 'OK.' The second one it's like, 'Oh, again?' Then the third one it's like, 'Who has the most juice and which team is closer.' "

"In overtime, it's who makes the smaller detail plays," said Durant, after 57 minutes, 35 points and 13 rebounds. "Boxing out, rebounding, getting the loose balls -- both teams made those in the first two overtimes. In the last one, I think we fought a little harder to the loose balls and to make some big plays."

The Thunder had to fight for their lives because the Grizzlies might as well have been a boogeyman who keeps reaching his hand up out of the grave.

The Thunder had to battle because the significance of the next moment was always inescapable. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, over the years when a series is tied at 2-2, the team with the home-court advantage has won 73.9 percent of the time. But when one team takes a 3-1 lead, that team has historically won 95.9 percent of the time. That's the edge that OKC was trying not to slide over.

It became a game of attrition with three different players fouling out and a game of sheer endurance as the Grizzlies' big man combination of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph played 56 and 57 minutes, respectively, and eventually wore out while the Thunder wore on.

"When you're out there hearing the crowd and see you teammates pumping their chest, you kind of don't think if you're tired or not," Westbrook said.

"Especially in a big game, you never let fatigue win," Durant said. "Coach told us that in that second overtime: 'Just push through it. Five more minutes ... Five more minutes ... Five more minutes.' "

It became 63 minutes of muscles screaming, lungs burning and heads ringing and, through it all, growth by a couple of 22-year-olds who are trying to steer a contender down the right path. Just one night after the Lakers' two-year reign as champions ended in such ignominious disgrace, the Thunder displayed poise and pride.

"Especially on the road, second round of the playoffs, it's gonna be a game that we look back on and say we got better and guys got older as a team," said Westbrook.

"If you ask anybody in this league, they always remember every game in the playoffs and to know that we were there in a triple-overtime game, at any level, you can't forget that," said Durant. "That was fun. That was special."

That was one to grow on.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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