NORMAN — It was one of the worst games of his NBA career. Game 5 against the Houston Rockets saw Oklahoma City’s Kevin Martin fail on a scale of epic proportions and he missed wide open shot after wide open shot.
Martin was 1-for-10 from the field and scored three points as the Thunder lost to the Rockets 107-100. Most fans had already believed the team made the wrong decision in trading James Harden to Houston for Martin and draft picks. His performance that night seemed to validate it.
“He had a bad, bad game,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of Martin. “I didn’t try to disguise that. He had a bad game. Bottom line, he missed a lot of open shots.”
That type of performance would have sent some players into a tailspin and they would be useless the rest of the postseason.
That was not the case with Martin. The nine-year veteran returned in Game 6 and exploded for 25 points, 21 coming in the first half. He doubled down on that performance with one just as strong against Memphis in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals when he posted 25 points on 8-for-14 shooting. Both were Thunder wins.
“I was just being aggressive,” Martin said. “Playing my game. I wasn’t satisfied with how last week ended. Just continue to play my game. I’m a guy that likes to be guarded. I don’t like wide-open looks. But I will keep taking them if they are there.”
Oklahoma City takes a 1-0 lead into Game 2 tonight at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. Despite the hot shooting of Martin and late game heroics of Kevin Durant, many still believe this is the Grizzlies’ series to lose. But much of that is based on the idea that no one can step up and replace Russell Westbrook’s production.
Martin doesn’t agree.
“Different guys are going to have to step up throughout the series,” Martin said. “You know they are a pretty good defensive team. I’m sure they are going to be ready the next game to take some things away that we did in Game 1. Other guys besides me, Kevin (Durant) and Reggie (Jackson) are going to have to step up and keep playing their game.”
But while it will be a total team effort to take some of the added pressure off Durant, Martin knows his skill set allows him to become that valued and consistent scorer the team needs.
That also means expanding his game. For much of the regular season, Martin’s job was to sit out on the edges and wait for Durant or Westbrook to throw him a pass for an open shot. Now he is having to create scoring chances like he did when he was in Sacramento and Houston.
“I realize being a 20-point scorer in the league, you can’t just be a jump shooter or just be a guy that takes it to the hole,” Martin said. “You have to have a lot of moves in your game. Because the other team is trying to take them away. You have to keep on trying to put different things in your arsenal and hopefully they work.”
But just like all his players, Brooks expects Martin to handle his business on both ends of the court. His block in the fourth quarter Sunday may have shown he has gotten the message.
“He has to continue to believe in himself first of all,” Brooks said. “The team has done a good job around him. He is a big part of what we do. We need his scoring. But we need his defense. He has to play defense. If he wants to be an offensive player only, it’s not good enough. Good teams aren’t good unless they have players that understand their roles. The good thing I like about our team is everybody’s role is to defend.”
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