Tuesday May 10th, 2011

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Kevin Durant shuffled his sneakered feet slowly down a dimly lit hallway, head bowed, every ounce of energy drained from his 6-foot-9, 230-pound frame.

It was Durant's shot, a feathery 19-footer, his 20th attempt of the night, his team's 95th of the game, that sealed Oklahoma City's 133-123 triple overtime victory Monday, ending a 3-hour, 52-minute marathon and squaring the Thunder's suddenly gripping second-round series with Memphis at two games apiece.

"Fifty-six minutes," said Durant, who actually played 57. "I don't think I've ever been this tired."

Years from now, when gray hairs outnumber dark ones in these young Thunder players' chins, they will remember this. Their bodies won't let them forget being a part of the sixth triple-overtime playoff game in NBA history. Kendrick Perkins called this one of the most physical series in which he's played, and the body language of his teammates inside the Oklahoma City locker room backed up his words. James Harden (49 minutes) collapsed in the back of his locker. Nick Collison (35 minutes) did the same. Perkins (35 minutes) hunched over in a chair, ice bags on both knees, a drained look on his face.

"I've been in some battles with Dwight Howard," said Perkins, the former Boston center. "This is really physical."

This is what this series has become: a fight between two teams that refuse to give each other an inch. Memphis played power ball for 63 grueling minutes, dumping it in to Zach Randolph (34 points in 56 minutes) and Marc Gasol (26 points in 57 minutes), flexing its formidable muscle in the paint. Oklahoma City hit back with Perkins, Collison and Serge Ibaka, turning a basketball game into a bruising battle.

"Every ounce of energy that you had in your body, you gave it to your team," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.

Russell Westbrook sure did. The point guard's erratic play has been a debated storyline throughout this series. But with Tony Allen and Shane Battier draped all over Durant for most of the game, Westbrook went on the offensive. Few of his 40 points (on 15-of-33 shooting) came easy; most ended with an airborne Westbrook crashing to the floor. He added seven assists and seven rebounds to his final line, which, most important, showed just three turnovers in 51 minutes.

"I played point guard for a long time in this league and I know when things don't go well, the coach and the point guard always get the blame," Brooks said. "We needed his scoring. I thought [Westbrook] was terrific."

Brooks credited a film session at the team hotel on Sunday. In an animated, 75-minute meeting the team dissected video of Game 3, a forgettable performance in which the Thunder blew a 16-point lead and lost in overtime. As the coaching staff sat in silence, the players, Perkins said, "let some things out."

"Guys let each other know how they felt," Perkins said.

"We wanted to talk about what went wrong," Brooks said. "And everyone participated. I love when guys have great dialogue with each other. I tell the guys 'it's not my way, it's not your way, it's finding the best way to get the team to get prepared for the next game.' That's the great thing about film. It's the truth box. It tells you the truth every time."

The truth, Brooks said, was that somewhere along the line the Thunder forgot how to close out games. Westbrook got sloppy. Durant struggled to get free. But when Mike Conley and Greivis Vasquez tossed in improbable shots to prolong Game 4, Oklahoma City refused to fold. In the second overtime it was Westbrook (seven points) taking over and in the third OT Durant (six) was there to close the show. In each Thunder huddle in the overtimes was Perkins, his low voice bellowing "lock in" over and over in their ears.

"I saw toughness in their eyes at the end," Brooks said. "They could have easily said, 'This isn't meant to be.' They were exhausted. Our guys have an amazing ability to play with a competitive spirit. I haven't been around many young players like that."

Oklahoma City reclaimed home-court advantage on Monday. Keeping it, however, won't be a simple task. The Thunder know Memphis will be there in Game 5 on Wednesday, pounding the ball inside, beating on them with blunt force and brute strength.

"They got a lot of reasons to hate us," Perkins said. "It's exciting. It's good playoff basketball. It's two teams playing with a lot of pride trying to get it done."

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