Reggie Jackson's 2014 postseason began with three games he'd just as soon forget. Saturday, though, was a night he'll remember for an awful long time.
After scoring just 15 points on 3-for-19 shooting in the first three games against the Memphis Grizzlies defense, the 24-year-old reserve guard exploded for a career-high 32 points, including 21 after halftime, to propel the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 92-89 overtime win in Game 4 of this remarkably tight first-round matchup, tying the best-of-seven series at two games apiece headed back to Oklahoma for Game 5 on Tuesday.
Neither team was able to muster much offense on Saturday, combining to shoot just 68 for 184 from the field (37 percent) and 14 for 48 from 3-point land. After combining for 60 points in a losing effort in Game 3, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both struggled with their shots, scoring 15 points each on a combined 11 for 45 from the floor and just 2 for 13 from 3-point land as a tandem. With the All-Stars struggling, Jackson's ability to exploit the cracks in the Grizzlies defense gave Oklahoma City the boost it so desperately needed to get across the finish line in the third straight overtime contest in this series.
After the game, Jackson credited his big night in large part to the attention drawn by his star teammates .
"Everybody's tracking on Russ and KD," Jackson told ESPN's J.A. Adande. "They did a good job of just attacking and finding me off the wing. I was just trying to attack the basket."
He was extremely successful in doing so, going went 8 for 10 inside the paint and 6 for 8 inside the restricted area. Even when he wasn't finishing his dribble-drives with layups, he was able to get himself to the free-throw line, where he shot a perfect 8 for 8 to seal the win.
"Reggie played an outstanding basketball game," Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said after the game. "He was able to attack and finish around the rim like he's done all year. I knew he would bounce back. It's what he's done for us when he started, and he's done a great job of coming in and giving us that lift offensively when we need it as the sixth man."
His ability to do so on Saturday night reminded more than one observer of some high-scoring Thunder sixth men from years gone by.
"He is their James Harden-slash-Kevin Martin. Now it's Reggie Jackson," Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said during his postgame news conference. "He allows them to go small, and they've got four scorers on the floor that can all shoot the three, and they spread you out, and they got to the rim too many times."
Joerger, too, noted the gravitational pull of Jackson's All-Star pals in distorting the Grizzlies' D.
"He was very aggressive, and he made some shots and got going. You know, what do you say? They're running plays for him with Durant and Westbrook spaced out," Joerger said. "If you're going down [because of that] ... my hat's off to them. Scotty did a great job and Reggie did a great job."
Jackson's efforts were aided by Memphis' inability to cash in on their own aggressive play. The Grizzlies shot just 42 percent at the rim in Game 4 — full marks to Thunder shot-blocking terror Serge Ibaka, who rejected five shots and altered many more — and missed a whopping 10 free throws, an absolute killer in a game where the line between victory and defeat is so thin and shifts position so rapidly.
"Misses happen in basketball," said Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, who led the way with 23 points on 10-for-21 shooting, with 11 rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal. "Missing shots, missing 3s, missing layups, missing free throws. Those are things that do happen in basketball. The important thing is how you react. How you get back and try to make up for that miss is what really matters."
After watching his team miss more than two thirds of their shots through the first three quarters to trail by 12 points heading into the fourth, Joerger elected to sit struggling power forward Zach Randolph (11 points on 5-for-14 shooting) and go small to start the frame, putting marksman Mike Miller at power forward alongside Gasol with chaos demon Tony Allen at the three and a two-point-guard pairing of starter Mike Conley and reserve Beno Udrih in the backcourt. Before long, the Grizzlies' offense began resembling actual offense, and OKC's lead began to dwindle; after Allen rebounded his own miss for his ninth offensive rebound and put it back in, the Grizzlies held a 74-73 lead with just under four minutes remaining in the fourth.
The lead had stretched to five at 80-75 with 1:20 left, and the Thunder looked dead on their feet. They needed a rush of blood, a clean look and a shot to, for all intents and purposes, save their season. Ninety-nine times out of 100, that shot's being taken by Durant or Westbrook. On Saturday, though, it was Jackson, who drove on Udrih, saw Gasol slide over to block his path to the rim, pulled the ball back out, saw the shot clock winding down and buried a 3 to make it 80-78 with 59.2 seconds left.
"Well, he's worked on it," Brooks said when asked what he was thinking when he saw Jackson pull up. "He's improved his game in all areas, and he's improved his 3-point shooting by all the time he's put in."
After the ensuing Grizzlies possession ended with Udrih trying to force a cross-court pass to Miller that was deflected by Durant, Jackson ran a quick pick-and-roll with Ibaka, got to the middle and knocked down a runner to tie the game with 30.6 ticks remaining.
"We were struggling there in the fourth and he just took it over," Durant said. "He was aggressive, going to the rim all night. [...] We rode him all night, and he made huge, huge plays. I'm so proud of him. Hopefully, he can build on it and keep getting better from it."
One area where Jackson could get better: clock recognition. After the Grizzlies' final fourth-quarter possession ended with a missed Gasol jumper, an Allen offensive rebound ripped out of Westbrook's hands and a putback attempt snuffed by an Ibaka block, Jackson took possession and promptly flung a 60-foot heave toward the basket in the hopes of beating the buzzer. This is a good move when you've got tenths-of-a-second left. With four seconds, though? Not so much.
Jackson bounced back in overtime, going 6 for 6 from the foul line in the extra session. He was also the primary defender on Conley's last-second 3-point try, contesting the right-wing jumper
"Just trusting myself," Jackson said when Adande asked what allowed him to have this breakout performance. "Trusting all the work I put in this summer. Like I said, just glory to God, my teammates trust in me — they just allowed me to go out there and play free, have fun and win."
And to make a bit of history in the process. Jackson became just the third player since 1985 to go for 32 and nine off the bench in a playoff game, joining former Phoenix Suns swingman Eddie Johnson and legendary San Antonio Spurs sixth man Manu Ginobili.
"We've got to do a better job on guys like Reggie, like Serge, like Caron Butler," Gasol said after the loss. "Those guys are the guys that are going to make the difference in the series."
Jackson certainly made the difference on Saturday, and as a result, the Thunder head back to Oklahoma City with a chance to win this series by holding serve on their home court.
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