The first half, the Thunder promised to make it a laugher: they led the Grizzlies by as many as 25 before James Johnson nailed a trey with two seconds left before halftime. Nobody was laughing in the third quarter, though: Memphis outscored OKC 31-13 in the third quarter to pull within four, and they narrowed it to two early in the fourth. This is approximately the point where I think Scott Brooks pointed to his wrist and mouthed the words “SPEED IT UP.” Which is what the Thunder did, going on a 13-1 run, and the Griz never regained their momentum. First game goes into the books: OKC 100, Memphis 86, on a night where three other teams with home-court advantage fell.
Seriously. The Raptors, the Clippers and the Pacers all were beaten at home. This, of course, means nothing at the moment. What this game means is something we knew all along: the Grizzlies are befuddled at any pace other than Slow Grind. They did a good job of protecting the rock, giving up only six turnovers, but otherwise they were largely at sea, missing nine of 11 treys, 13 of 31 free throws, and shooting only 36 percent. The statistic I’m staring at, though, is Zach Randolph’s line: he had a team-high 21 points on 7-21 shooting, 11 rebounds, and three assists, despite spending time on the bench with five fouls, and still ending up with 39 minutes. Mike Conley (16 points, 11 assists) also played 39; Marc Gasol (16 points) played 45. Apparently the only reason the bench got any burn tonight was because Tayshaun Prince took ill early and did not return. Tony Allen led those reserves with 13; Mike Miller, the three-point specialist, made exactly one of them.
It was a decent night for Kevin Durant, who knocked down 13 of 25 for 33 points. Russell Westbrook, officially off his minutes restriction, played 33 minutes, collecting 23 points and 10 rebounds; Serge Ibaka, who played one minute more, scored 17 and retrieved nine boards. (The Thunder was never seriously threatened on the boards, finishing 51-41.) Caron Butler and Reggie Jackson each kicked in nine from the bench.
If there’s anything I wonder about, it’s this: would this have gone any differently had Nick Calathes been available? The rookie Memphis guard is a pretty good shooter, but we won’t see him in the playoffs at all: he’s serving a 20-game suspension for violation of the NBA’s drug policy. The drug in question, tamoxifen, is usually prescribed for treatment of, um, breast cancer; Calathes isn’t suffering from that, but there’s an off-label use to reduce the effects of steroids.
Game 2 is Monday night at the ‘Peake; Games 3 and 4 will be played in Memphis, and as Beale Street Bears reminds us: “There is still a ton of basketball left to be played and the Grizzlies are still very much alive in this series.” These are, after all, the same Grizzlies who won their last 14 home games. If they can upset the Thunder at home even once but let’s not bring back that memory.