The key to Memphis this year was supposed to be that the veterans were older, the newbies were newer, and the coach (David Fizdale) is in his first year in the top slot. (The Fizmeister was previously an assistant at Miami.) If the combination of these factors was supposed to mean that the Grizzlies were going to be easy, or at least easier, well, it didn’t happen that way in Tulsa, where the Thunder fouled all over the place, and when they weren’t fouling, they were turning the ball over. All the Griz had to do was not mess up, and for the most part, that’s exactly what they did; after falling behind 31-17 in the first quarter, Memphis buckled down and dispatched the Thunder, 110-94. It’s hard to imagine how OKC came up with 94 points after 35 personal fouls (the Griz took 44 free throws, making 34) and 28 turnovers. Then again, the Thunder roster is in decided flux, what with injuries all over the place. But it’s preseason, right? None of that stuff matters. Nor will it matter Sunday night, when the Timberwolves show up in Oklahoma City. I plan to keep telling myself that until the Real Season begins.
The first clue that this wouldn’t be a classic Grizzlies/Thunder grindout came before the game, when Memphis point guard Mike Conley was scratched: something about his Achilles’ tendon. Dave Joerger, ever-resourceful, moved Courtney Lee from shooting guard to the point, and installed Tony Allen at the two. At about the same time came the second clue: Kevin Durant would be back after missing only a single game with Peripheral Toe Jam. (I’m not up on all this injury lingo.) The Griz were able to set their preferred pace, which may be characterized as “slow and deliberate,” for about half the first quarter, whereupon the Thunder started trying to speed things up. It was 25-16 after the first, 56-36 at the half, and Courtney Lee was lost in the third. With the Thunder up 18 at the end of the third, Billy Donovan decided to let the reserves fight the rest of the way; he recanted six minutes later as the Griz started to make some headway. Three minutes later, order was restored, and the Grizzlies were ultimately dispatched, 112-94.
It wasn’t that the Griz were terrible, exactly, but the matchups didn’t match so well, and, well, they have the likes of Vince Carter, who fought in the French and Indian War, a good soldier gradually fading away. Still, sixth man Mario Chalmers, who always plays OKC tough, did it again, coming up with 23 points, though he wound up playing over 38 minutes. Meanwhile, “Is Kevin really back?” Yes, he was; KD had a slowish start, but he wound up with 26 points and a startling 17 rebounds, one short of a career high. Russell Westbrook added 20, because that’s what he does, and the bench came up with 50 points, something they’d love to do more often.
This is the last meeting with Memphis this season. (Playoffs? Who can tell at this point?) OKC wins that series 2-1. The Thunder will be on the road Friday through Tuesday, taking on the Lakers, the Trail Blazers, and the Timberwolves; Wednesday they’re back at the ‘Peake, where the Mavs will be waiting.
The Grizzlies had basically one thing going for them tonight: Mario Chalmers, who scored 29 the last time these two teams met and led Memphis this time with 19. Other than that, it was an all-Thunder display: up three after the first quarter, up 12 at the half, up 35 after three, and by then empty seats were appearing at the FedEx. Lest he be accused of running up the score, Billy Donovan then put Kyle Singler in. (Okay, I stole that from Clark Matthews.) That putative lapse aside, the Thunder could do no wrong: third-string point guard Cameron Payne, a Memphis hometown hero, came on halfway through the fourth quarter and promptly sank a trey. At the last timeout, inside the two-minute mark, it was still a 35-point lead, and the final was a sort of embarrassing 125-88.
Once again, OKC played mostly small ball: Steven Adams and Enes Kanter got fewer than 30 minutes between them. Batman and Robin retired gracefully after the third quarter, with Kevin Durant producing 32 points and 10 rebounds, and Russell Westbrook serving up 16 assists to go with 13 points. (Payne claimed a new career high, with, um, five, and Singler knocked down a bucket somewhere.) The Griz had a rough time of it generally, with Mike Conley scoreless and Marc Gasol appearing to mess up his left leg at least twice. Dave Joerger, understandably — this was the first half of a back-to-back for Memphis — put most of the burden on the reserves, and they collected 52 points for him.
For the Thunder, the schedule gets even weirder for a moment: home for a rematch with the Hawks on Thursday, off to Utah to play the Jazz on Friday, and then back home on Sunday against those same Jazz. (“That” same Jazz? Whatever.) Next week: the Trail Blazers, the Cavaliers (in Cleveland), and the Lakers.
Ah, Memphis, where struggling basketball teams go to die — but first, they get tortured to within an inch of their lives. And on this particular night, they did it three points at a time (12 of 17 from three-point distance) or one point at a time (34 of 37 free throws). Tasked with interfering with this fusillade, the Thunder spent much of the game in the wrong place at the wrong time: either they let someone, usually Mario Chalmers, knock down a trey, or they let someone, usually Mario Chalmers, collect a couple of freebies. Still, through three quarters it was fairly close, with OKC up by one before what Judge Radar calls “12 Minutes of Hell.” Memphis ran up an 11-point lead before the Thunder again showed signs of life; OKC was able to pull within three, but no closer than that, and the final was a startling 122-114.
Okay, maybe Zach Randolph isn’t quite as fast as he was in days of yore. Still, Z-Bo collected 10 rebounds and 10 points — and he was only the fifth-leading scorer among the Griz. (The aforementioned Mario Chalmers scored a team-high 29, including four of seven treys.) And you have to figure, any day you give up 122 to the Grizzlies, you’re screwed no matter how many statistical categories you might dominate; the Thunder shot 51 percent, outrebounded the Griz by ten, and didn’t do too badly from distance. No matter. Russell Westbrook had the sort of night that only Russell Westbrook seems to have these days: 40 points, 14 rebounds. Still no matter. Perhaps we can put the blame on Kyle Singler, who started in place of the still-recovering Kevin Durant: in eleven minutes, Singler missed four shots and committed four fouls. And Andre Roberson was ailing; Anthony Morrow started at the two, and hit one shot all night. So maybe — no, no excuses, this is the first time all season the Griz beat someone with a winning record. It will not be the last.
The Pelicans are next, on Wednesday, followed by the Knicks on Friday. So far this year, New Orleans has been unexpectedly terrible; New York, unexpectedly not terrible. At least there will be a home crowd for the Thunder.
This may or may not say something:
No Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka or Kanter tonight because Billy Donovan wanted a taste of what 2014-15 felt like.
— Jon Hamm (@JonMHamm) October 16, 2015
This shouldn’t have mattered, especially since Dave Joerger decided to rest most of his marquee names, but the second- and third-string Thunder offenses were utterly horrible against just about any member of the Griz, trailing 34-14 five minutes into the second quarter and never getting back to within single digits. Of course, it’s preseason and doesn’t mean anything, right? Still, the FedEx Forum in Memphis has long been a scary place for visiting teams, and this 94-78 thrashing of the Thunder, even the JV, will only reinforce that fear.
Better teams than this Thunder squad have been ground down into lunch meat in the FedEx Forum this year, and there was little reason to hope for anything other than cold cuts, given the ectoplasmic nature of the OKC defense, plus a particularly blah night from Russell Westbrook, who scored his first second-half points with 3:30 left, and, just to hammer it home, a circus shot by Nick Calathes to end the third quarter. What’s more, there were “horrific calls,” as radio guy Matt Pinto put it. (Then again, there was a moment late in the fourth in which Pinto pointed out semi-helpfully that Westbrook was doubled by “two men.”) As close as OKC would get in that final frame was four points, at 92-88. And about the moment I marveled on Twitter as to how good Jeff Green was these days, Green inadvertently kneed Westbrook in the face, dislodging the Iron Mask. Russ delivered one of two free throws, but it was already over. Memphis 100, Oklahoma City 92, 3-1 in the season series, and that last playoff seed is slipping away.
All five Memphis starters scored in double figures, led by yes, Uncle Jeff with 22. Marc Gasol added 19. And not to snub Mike Conley, Courtney Lee, or even Zach Randolph, who rolled up 40 among them, but arguably the most interesting line came from Calathes, who hit all five of his shots and several Thunder players, fouling out in a mere 13 minutes. The same OKC sub-D that gave up 72 points in the paint to the Mavs day before yesterday yielded 60 to the Griz. Memphis was terrible on the long ball (4-21), but hey: 60 points in the paint.
Not that the Thunder were all that swift on the long ball either (4-17), or the short one (36-88, 41 percent, seven back of the Griz). And while Enes Kanter scarfed down 17 rebounds to go with a game-high 24 points, the night’s only double-double, Westbrook managed only 17 points on 5-20 shooting, if “shooting” is the word, and Dion Waiters, having curbed his tendency to take too many wasted threes, came up with a measly 3-11 around the rim. And here’s a first: Kyle Singler in double figures, with 13 points, including three of the Thunder’s four three-point makes. (Anthony Morrow, also with 13, got the other one.)
The Griz now climb into a tie with Houston for the #2 seed in the West, though the Rockets hold the tiebreaker. Guess who’s coming to OKC Sunday? It’s going to be one of those weekends.
One weird little contretemps reflected the tone of the entire game: imagine, if you will, a jump ball between Zack Randolph and Russell Westbrook. Now imagine Westbrook winning the jump. It happened, and the mighty Grizzlies, the one team that can be counted on to try to grind the Thunder into multicolored paste, took one more of a seemingly endless series of body blows from an Oklahoma City team that damned well wanted to go into the All-Star break on a high note. The Thunder were up 18 at the half; the Griz fought back to within 11 halfway through the fourth; despite the sudden absences of Dion Waiters (who stepped on Tony Allen’s foot) and Kevin Durant (probably a precautionary measure), Memphis gained no more ground, and Dave Joerger finally cried Uncle. The final was 105-89, and the Griz are now up 2-1 for the season.
How decisive was this thrashing? Memphis shot 37 percent, missed 10 of 12 treys, and picked up four fast-break points. Still, this is the statistic that stings: 14 Thunder turnovers produced only two point for the Griz. Z-Bo, of course, led the squad with 16 points and 11 boards; Jeff Green picked up 11, nine in the second half; amazingly, Marc Gasol wasn’t much of a factor, 8 points on 2-10 shooting and five rebounds.
One reason Gasol wasn’t getting anywhere was total Thunder rebound dominance, 49-42. Everyone was snatching boards: Durant had 10 (with 26 points), Russell Westbrook nine (with 24 points and nine assists), Nick Collison nine (with 15 points). Mitch McGary, after two consecutive double-doubles, got a dose of suckage: the Griz keyed on him, and in 15 minutes he managed two boards and six fouls. The Dueling Sixth Men were fairly evenly matched, Waiters collecting 11 points before turning his ankle, Reggie Jackson cashing in eight.
The Pacers put the hurt on the Pelicans tonight, so the Thunder have sole possession of ninth place, and trail the eighth-place Suns by a mere half a game. Assuming we didn’t lose a couple of players tonight, this is a promising position to be in before the next 29 games.
In the first three and a half minutes of the fourth quarter, the Thunder scored exactly two points, a layup by Anthony Morrow. Two minutes later, they still had just those two points, and had turned the ball over seven times. But by then, everyone had seen the writing on the walls of the FedEx Forum, and that writing said “Visitors unwelcome.” With 2:10 left, Scott Brooks acknowledged the truth of the matter, and pulled his starters. The victorious Grizzlies got a standing O from the crowd. It was 85-74 at the horn, the second Memphis win over Oklahoma City in two games, with two left to play.
Weirdly, the Griz shot a terrible 37 percent from the floor. Still, Memphis’ 34-92 was definitely better than OKC’s 27-78, less than 35 percent. And the Griz dominated the other columns on the box score: 54-47 on rebounds, 22-15 on assists, 11-5 on steals. Zach Randolph got his 13th straight double-double (21 points, 18 rebounds); Marc Gasol got one too (15 points, 12 boards). Mike Conley, a game-time decision due to a wrist injury, rolled up 10 points early on. The arrival of Jeff Green meant that Tony Allen could return to his sixth-man position; both scored eight.
Meanwhile, OKC had lots of underachievers, including its two All-Stars: both Kevin Durant (15 points) and Russell Westbrook (14 points) went 5-16 from the floor. (Westbrook hit one of three treys; KD missed all five of his.) Serge Ibaka did squeak out a double-double with 13 points and ten retrievals; nobody else approached double figures, and in that plus/minus stuff, the only plusses belonged to Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb, who weren’t summoned until after the white flag had been raised. (Glue guy Nick Collison held his ground with a zero.)
The Orlando Magic, who were waxed at home by the Mavs tonight, will be in OKC Monday night, possibly without coach Jacque Vaughn, whose job is reportedly in jeopardy. If Vaughn shows up and the Thunder play like they did in the fourth quarter at Memphis, he may get a brief reprieve.
The Memphis Grizzlies are what you’d call a Known Quantity: they play tough and they foul a lot. Except they didn’t foul a lot: the Thunder took only one shot from the stripe in the first half, and missed it. OKC finally got a free throw in the third quarter, but rather a lot of subsequent foul shots went awry. Just as badly, they didn’t manage a fast-break point until midway through the fourth, and there was, as has often happened this year, the full array of Possible Turnovers. Still, they tied it up with four minutes left. Three minutes later, the Griz were up 1; Reggie Jackson put up a trey at 0:53 for a two-point OKC lead; Mike Conley responded with one of his own at 0:38. Then an odd little contretemps just inside the 0:06 mark: Nick Collison failed to make the inbound within five seconds, passing possession to the Griz, and after a foul, Courtney Lee sank one of two free throws. With Memphis up two with 2.4 seconds left, the Thunder got one more shot, a Serge Ibaka trey which went wide, and that’s how it ended: Memphis 91, Oklahoma City 89.
The Thunder were up to nine players tonight: guard Ish Smith was brought in under the hardship clause, and Jeremy Lamb was deemed well enough to start. Smith didn’t stay in long, though he collected an assist in four minutes. Five of those nine men made double figures, led by Jackson (a game-high 22); Lamb had seventeen. OKC did several things right: 44-38 rebounding advantage, 47-42 shooting, and 12 of 25 treys (versus 9-18). But twenty turnovers the Grizzlies had only eight and close to the worst foul shooting in NBA history (3-11 for 27 percent) sealed their doom.
The Memphis offense came from all directions, as usual: Conley’s last trey gave him 20 for the night, with 17 from Lee and 16 from Zach Randolph. Tony Allen, while not on the list of offensive attractions, had four steals, one more than the entire OKC team.
Next outing: Sunday evening, with the Kings coming to town. Sacramento is 5-1 at this writing; the Thunder are 1-5 and out of the Western Conference basement only because the Lakers have dropped five straight.
Dave Joerger, noting that it is, after all, still the preseason, decided to stick with his second string tonight: no Gasol, no Conley, no Z-Bo, no Tony Allen. Not even Tayshaun Prince. Considering that half the Thunder roster is hors de combat, it’s hard to fault Joerger. And the Griz did pretty good in that first quarter, leading 32-23 after twelve. Meanwhile, Scott Brooks’ current version of the Starting Five of Frankenstein Perry Jones III and Lance Jones up front, Russell Westbrook and Andre Roberson on the wings, Steven Adams in the middle took a good while to get warmed up, but were fairly awesome when they did: see, for instance, Adams’ 14 points in the second quarter. OKC 60, Memphis 59 at the half, and the redemption of Jeremy Lamb, who came back to life in the second half, brought the Thunder to its second win in Before It Counts, 117-107.
Lamb, in fact, had 23 points, Adams 22, and five others in double figures. (Westbrook had the game’s only double-double: 14 points, 12 assists.) Roberson, alas, continued the Thunder tradition of no actual shooting from the shooting guard, missing all four of his shots. Despite that, OKC shot 53 percent, and if you were wondering if Anthony Morrow would help in the absence of Kevin Durant, look at this line: 5-6 from the floor, 3-4 from outside, 6-6 from the stripe, for 19 points in just over 22 minutes.
Journeyman Quincy Pondexter, gone much of last year, evidently has spent some time working on his 3-ball: he made three of five to lead the Griz with 16 points. Newish guys Jordan Adams and Patrick Christopher carried much of the load towards the end. If Dave Joerger is saying “We do so have a bench,” well, we have to believe him.
Thursday night, it’s off to the Big Easy. Maybe Serge Ibaka will be back by then. Or maybe it won’t be a problem if he isn’t.
Admiral Ackbar’s attention would have been drawn early this afternoon: Zach Randolph drew a one-game suspension for trying to punch out Steven Adams in Game 6, Mike Conley was still hurting a bit after a hamstring issue dating to late in Game 5, and Tony Allen had eye issues. This is, of course, precisely the sort of disadvantage that tends to lure the Thunder into a false sense of security. At tip-off, Z-Bo was indeed gone, and Dave Joerger decided to shuffle his rotation even further, starting Allen instead of Tayshaun Prince and Mike Miller in place of Randolph. The Thunder made no adjustments beyond starting Caron Butler again; there were the usual distressing defensive lapses, enabling the Griz to take a double-digit lead early on, but the answer this time was to crank up offense far beyond Memphis’ ability to foil. Oklahoma City 120, Memphis 109, and the Thunder go on to the semifinals against some West Coast team.
How cranked, you ask, was this offense? OKC hit 42-69, 61 percent. Even less likely: 11-19 from the Twilight Zone, 58 percent. Old unreliable Kevin Durant was 12-18 from the floor, 5-5 from outside, for 33 points. Erratic Russell Westbrook had a triple-double: 27 points on 10-16 from the floor, 10 rebounds, 16 assists. (The TNT audience was informed that no, they don’t have quadruple-doubles.) Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson and, yes, Caron Butler all ended up in double figures, Jackson leading the bench with 16.
And you have to wonder what Memphis could have done to win this one. They collected 13 steals; they forced 20 Thunder turnovers; they made 30 out of 34 foul shots. Marc Gasol, despite playing with four, then five, fouls, had a solid-gold 24-point outing; Conley, hamstring or no, made 20; Courtney Lee, the Griz’ most effective long-distance shooter, had 16. Then again, 2-5 was as “effective” as Memphis would get tonight: the long ball failed the Griz time and time again, with five makes in 17 tries. Still, on the whole, they did the right things; they just couldn’t do enough of them in 48 minutes.
Meanwhile at the Staples Center, the Warriors and the Clippers are going at it in their Game 7. Whichever one of them survives will show up here Monday night.
“That’s what they’re supposed to write,” said Kevin Durant blandly. “I didn’t come through for the team. So they got to write that type of stuff.” Now whether or not this egregious nonsense was intended to motivate KD the newspaper issued an official apology after, shall we say, largely negative response from the readership clearly something got into him: Kid Delicious knocked down 36 points and retrieved ten rebounds before the onset of blessed garbage time at 2:46. Nor was this the only Thunder adjustment, either: Scott Brooks, caution apparently thrown to the winds, started Caron Butler in place of Thabo Sefolosha. Forget overtime: OKC 104, Memphis 84, and Game 7, always referred to as “if necessary,” will be necessary.
The Griz had a few problems tonight. For one thing, they couldn’t knock down shots: they shot only 37 percent and missed a third of their free throws. Mike Conley, who’s had moments in this series when he seemingly scored at will, was held to five points (2-10). Marc Gasol had a team-high 17, and often-overlooked reserve forward James Johnson led the reserves with 15. But here’s the Telltale Statistic: the Grizzlies, as physical as any team in the Association, recorded exactly one block, courtesy of Courtney Lee. Serge Ibaka had four all by himself. Steven Adams had five.
And maybe that was the difference tonight: the willingness to mix it up with those brutes from Beale Street. The Thunder owned the boards, to the tune of 47-36. There was that 11-1 block differential. And if OKC was horrible from the three-point circle it was Durant’s fault for missing six while the rest of the team was 7-15 the Griz were worse at 3-14. As for Russell Westbrook, he took fewer but marginally better shots, 9-21 for 25 points. Butler, in his unaccustomed role as a starter, played 29 minutes and scored 7; more to the point, he provided defense that was roughly comparable to, but different from, what could be expected from Sefolosha, and that may have befuddled the Griz just a hair.
So we’re back to square one: 48 minutes for all the marbles. Or maybe 53 minutes. Or however long it takes.
Some time before the second half, the Fox Sports Oklahoma feed on Cox Cable turned to utter darkness, which was assumed to be a technical problem. After dialing around for a moment, I decided otherwise, and said so:
TNT and two flavors of ESPN are also apparently blacked out. I'm thinking this is the cable equivalent of black socks. #sterlingbanned
— Charles G Hill (@dustbury) April 30, 2014
Me, I rely on radio guy Matt Pinto, so I had no problems keeping up unlike the Thunder, who trailed from the start and fell behind by 20 late in the third quarter, just about at the moment when FS Oklahoma returned. (This was also just about the moment that the Clippers/Warriors game got underway on the Left Coast, reinforcing my belief.) Those who were watching got to see a 13-0 Thunder run. And with 6:35 left, OKC got its first lead of the night, 79-78 on a Kevin Durant trey. It would be their last in regulation: the Thunder, down 87-82 with 3:39 left, burned their last timeout. Somehow they managed another four-point play, Zach Randolph fouling Caron Butler on a trey; at :04, Russell Westbrook took the ball away from Mike Conley and dunked, tying it up at 90; Z-Bo’s last-second dunk came too late, and, yes, boys and girls, it’s overtime again.
The overtime began ominously: a Mike Miller trey, a Durant two-pointer, another Miller trey, another Durant two-pointer. The Griz were up 100-98 with 39 seconds left; Durant hit one of two free throws to bring the Thunder within one, yet another Miller trey went awry; OKC got the ball back with 2.9 left, Durant missed a fadeaway, and a Serge Ibaka stickback was just a hair too late. Memphis 100, Oklahoma City 99, and the series moves back to Grizville for Game 6.
Somehow I thought Westbrook would pull out another miracle. Despite 10-31 (!) shooting, Russ collected a triple-double for the night: 30 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds. Durant finished with 26 points; Ibaka wound up with 15 points and 12 boards. Reggie Jackson wasn’t a non-factor, exactly, but he wasn’t making any headlines with six points, five rebounds and five turnovers. Caron Butler led the bench with 15, including 4 of 8 from beyond the arc; minus Butler, the Thunder were 8-23 on treys.
The aforementioned Mike Miller led all Memphis scorers with 21; Randolph had 20 with ten boards, Conley 17, Marc Gasol 11 with 15 boards. Here’s the number I noticed: the Griz had 11 steals Miller and Tony Allen had three each while the Thunder pulled off only two.
Thursday night in Memphis. About the only thing I’m certain of is that it will go to overtime.
Today Michael Heisley died. Heisley bought the Grizzlies in 2001, and owned them until 2012, when he retired from corporate life. Did this year’s Griz want to win one for their longtime owner? Sure they did. Maybe it was enough to push them, down 12 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, to a 22-9 run over eight minutes and change that erased the Thunder lead and put Memphis up for the first time since early in the second quarter. It was 80-75 Memphis when, once again, the Thunder, and this time I mean Reggie Jackson, put together enough of a run to tie it up with half a minute left: for fans of déjà vu, it was, yet again, overtime. With the Thunder up 88-87, Russell Westbrook missed a shot, retrieved it himself, and then had the ball taken away by Mike Conley; Conley burned up half the 30 seconds remaining, could not get the shot to fall, and Jackson snagged the rebound. Courtney Lee duly fouled Jackson, Jackson sank both free throws to make it 90-87, Conley went for the easy two and got it, Mike Miller duly fouled Jackson, Jackson sank both free throws to make it 92-89, and a Conley trey attempt at the horn fell short. It’s now two games each, with two, maybe three, to go.
Oh: “Jackson.” Say that several times. The sixth man clearly was primus inter pares tonight, scoring a career-high 32 points on 11-16 shooting and 8-8 from the line. Which was a good thing, since neither Westbrook nor Kevin Durant was having a good night, each with 15 points after ghastly marksmanship (KD 5-21, Westbrook 6-24). Durant did collect 13 rebounds, one fewer than Serge Ibaka, whose 14 boards and five blocks might seem to overshadow his 12 points. And while Derek Fisher’s shooting was off, he did hit a personal milestone: 244 career playoff games, tied with Robert Horry on the all-time list.
Three double-doubles among the Griz: Marc Gasol had a team-high 23 points and 11 rebounds, Conley finished with 14 points and 10 assists, and perennial pest Tony Allen came off the bench for 14 points and 13 boards. If Memphis did a good job of keeping Durant out of the lane, and they did, the Thunder shut down Zach Randolph pretty well, holding him to 11 points on 5-14. And if the Griz need something to lament, it’s this: 13-23 from the foul line. (Z-Bo accounted for four of those ten bricks.) For fans of plus/minus, no one was plus-er than Beno Udrih, +9 for the 19 minutes he played.
Game 5 will be in Oklahoma City Tuesday; there will now be a Game 6 in Memphis. And oh, just incidentally: when Michael Heisley bought the Grizzlies, they were in Vancouver; at his initial press conference, he vowed to keep them there, which he did for the rest of that season, anyway. I’ve seen that routine before, too.
With 7:43 left in the game, the Thunder were down 17 and apparently dispirited: the bench had been thoroughly outplayed, and nobody really expected much from the starters at this point. Then those starters produced a 10-0 run over three minutes, and suddenly it was a game again, kinda sorta. Within the two-minute mark, the Grizzlies hadn’t scored again, and the Thunder were down only three; within the one-minute mark, it was tied at 81. Tony Allen then knocked down two shots to give Memphis a four-point lead; Russell Westbrook then nailed a trey and drew a foul from Allen, hit the freebie, and it was tied at 85 with :26 left. Mike Conley spent 24 of those seconds looking for a shot, took one, and missed it; Kevin Durant tossed up a brick at the horn, and once again, we had overtime. With Memphis up four with one second left, Westbrook heaved a Hail Mary from beyond center court; somehow Allen fouled him again, and two of three missed free throws later, the last of them presumably deliberate, the Griz pocketed the Game 3 win, 98-95, and went up 2-1 in the series. (Oklahoma City is now 0-3 against Memphis in Game 3s.)
And here’s your Telltale Statistic: the Thunder shot 49 percent from inside the arc 29-59 but hit only five of 28 three-point attempts. Both Durant and Westbrook knocked down 30 points, but KD was 10-27 and missed all eight of his treys, and Russell was a comparably bad 9-26, though he did retrieve a game-high 13 rebounds. Did I mention the bench was outplayed? The reserves contributed a total of nine points, or ¾ Beno Udrih. (Allen had 16 to lead all reserves.) The Thunder also managed to miss eight free throws, though they did outrebound the Griz by one.
Five in a row in overtime for Conley, who led the Grizzlies with 20; Zach Randolph had a fairly lousy night shooting (5-20, 16 points) but did collect ten boards. Marc Gasol added fourteen from the middle. The Griz blocked only one shot all night Kosta Koufos gets credit for that but arguably, they didn’t need any more than that.
The series continues in Memphis on Saturday night.
The Grizzlies obviously worked on two concepts between Game 1 and tonight: hit the damn free throws already they knocked down all of their first twelve and keep the ball as long as possible. And by “as long as possible,” I’m talking 21-23 seconds into the shot clock. This lugubrious pace is Memphis’ signature style, and the Thunder typically has a great deal of trouble dealing with it. They certainly did tonight, trailing most of the way, finally squeezing out a one-point lead with 1:14 left when Zach Randolph, pestered by Kendrick Perkins, gave up the ball to Thabo Sefolosha, and Kevin Durant was waiting at the door to Dunk City. Mike Miller, brought in for long-ball marksmanship, replanted a Mike Conley miss from 24 feet, burning, yes, 21 seconds. The next two Thunder possessions came up empty, Conley hit three of four free throws, and the crowd nodded off. Then Durant knocked down a trey, accompanied by a body bump by Marc Gasol, and the subsequent foul shot made it 98-97 Griz with 13.8 left. Next Memphis possession, Conley hit one of two free throws; Russell Westbrook missed a trey, Perkins slapped it back in at the horn, and suddenly there was overtime.
Apparently that was all the Department of Miracles had available: the Griz struck first, and also second, in overtime. Perkins, attempting to block a Randolph shot, drew his sixth foul; Z-Bo obligingly missed the free throw. With 1:15 left, a Durant trey pulled OKC to within one; a Sefolosha steal gave the ball back to the Thunder, Gasol, guarding Durant, fouled out, and Durant tied it up on the second free throw. The Griz took over from that point, with a Randolph layup, two freebies by Courtney Lee, two more by Randolph, and that was it: Memphis 111, Oklahoma City 105, and the series like the last three MEM-OKC playoff series is tied at 1-1.
Griz ball movement was excellent: 30 assists and only nine turnovers. Z-Bo had lots of points (25), not so many rebounds (six), but Memphis wasn’t hurting for boards, what with Tony Allen collecting 8, Gasol and Conley seven each. (Conley also had 12 assists to go with his 19 points. Why does this man get so little respect as a point guard?) Tayshaun Prince, not ill tonight, was still not a factor; Beno Udrih did most of the bench scoring, with 14.
On the Thunder side, you figure Durant with 36, Westbrook with 29, Ibaka with 15 and then it rapidly tails off. Shooting 39 percent will do that to you. Both Durant and Ibaka snared 11 rebounds; Serge blocked five shots and bothered a few others. None of the reserves played much, and only Derek Fisher made as many as two shots.
Game 3 is in Memphis Thursday night. Expect things to be boisterous.
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.
For a moment there, it looked like the Thunder would win this one in a walk a rather fast walk, since the Grizzlies are fond of a slowish pace. They reckoned without Mike Miller, who knocked down all of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, nearly erasing the OKC lead; Serge Ibaka tossed in two free throws literally in the last second to seal the deal, 113-107, winning the season series three games to one.
Still, the Griz were scary in that final frame, hitting their first nine shots and ultimately scoring 36 points, all from the Memphis bench. (See Mike Miller, supra.) Memphis hit 51 percent for the night and knocked down 10 of 16 treys. (Miller had four of them.) Memphis had six players in double figures, led by, um, Mike Miller, evidently a valuable guy to have around when neither Zach Randolph (5-14, 13 points, 10 rebounds) or Mike Conley (1-10, six points, nine assists) is having a banner evening.
Defensive shuffles are the order of the day for OKC, with Kendrick Perkins out and Thabo Sefolosha lost early to a strain. This explains why Hasheem Thabeet played 17 minutes: he got four rebounds, three fouls and two points, but mostly he kept the Griz out of the paint. Kevin Durant played 43 minutes and garnered 37 points and 10 rebounds; Reggie Jackson played 34 minutes, mostly out of having to sub for Thabo, and picked up 14. The rehabilitation of Russell Westbrook seems to be complete: in just under half an hour he scored 21 points, delivered six assists, and turned the ball over only once. And despite the presence of Large Memphians, the Thunder outrebounded the Griz 39-33.
The Bobcats, who came this close to knocking off the Spurs tonight, will be in OKC on Sunday. Keep in mind that 27-31 is about a seventh seed in the East.
Halfway through the second quarter, you could see the grindhouse door: it was Oklahoma City 33, Memphis 32. Then suddenly the Thunder took off, landing in the locker room at halftime with a 51-36 lead. The Griz were not having any of that, and gradually eroded that lead to as little as three. With the Thunder up 78-75, it was Kevin Durant for two, Thabo Sefolosha for three and then Durant for two more for a ten-point lead, but a subsequent Zach Randolph layup was the last Memphis score, and the Thunder goes up 2-1 in the season series with an 86-77 win.
Durant’s game-high 31 was nice, of course, and Serge Ibaka put together a double-double in the first half, finishing with 21 points and 12 rebounds, but perhaps the pivotal factor was defense by Steven Adams, who blocked four shots in 23 minutes and basically dared anyone to get around him. (Adams also drew five fouls, but by no means is that news.) And if the bench didn’t score a lot only 14 points in all well, this wasn’t a big offensive display; the Thunder went 4-18 from beyond the arc, which is terrible, but the Grizzlies were 2-16.
How much Memphis missed Mike Conley is hard to tell. Rookie Nick Calathes started at the point, and if he’s not the offensive machine Conley is, he performed respectably well, with eight points and four steals. Randolph and Marc Gasol each scored 13 to lead the Griz, with Mike Miller and Courtney Lee kicking in 11 apiece, but what Memphis did best was force turnovers: OKC handed it over 16 times, the Griz only 11.
And once again, we get to defend Kendrick Perkins, who scored one point a free throw (out of two) in the waning moments but who contributed eight boards, two blocks and even a steal. With the Griz not hitting the long ball, all Perk had to do was keep them out of the paint, and you know he enjoyed it.
Fifty games done, 39 won. Not that anyone’s going to mention that this is on pace for a 64-win season. And by March, maybe Russell Westbrook remember him? will be back.
As everyone remembers, the Memphis Grizzlies excel at demolishing the Westbrook-less Thunder. And these Grizzlies are better than the last batch of Grizzlies Courtney Lee is more or less assimilated, and Marc Gasol is back in action so I didn’t expect a repeat of the 116-100 win from December. The issue, as always with Memphis, is which team enforces its preferred pace; the Grizzlies prevailed in the first and third quarters, the Thunder in the second, and the teams fought on more or less equal terms in the fourth although Memphis went into the final twelve minutes with a five-point lead, and the Griz were still up four with ten seconds left. Serge Ibaka delivered a trey, but Lee knocked down two free throws in the last second to give Memphis a 90-87 win.
This is one game where the plus/minus numbers are scary. All the Thunder reserves were plus; all the starters were minus. The bench, as usual, did yeoman work, contributing 20 points to the cause; the Memphis bench managed only 10. But Ibaka got into double figures only after that last-minute trey, which gave him 11; Reggie Jackson had 17, and might have had more had he not been bedeviled with personal fouls. Yeah, Kevin Durant had 37, but you have to figure Kevin Durant would have 37 against the Justice League of America.
If they were watching Gasol’s minutes, they apparently weren’t paranoid about it; the big guy put in 24 minutes and scored 12. Lee led the Griz with 24; Zach Randolph was right behind with 23, and the perennially-scary Mike Conley dropped in 19. Memphis is now within one game of .500, and if they’re healthy which means, basically, if Tony Allen gets better they may be in this playoff hunt after all.
As will the Thunder, though now they’re 28-10, and the next two will be tricky: at Houston on Thursday, and against Golden State back at the ‘Peake on Friday. Either, or both, are capable of inflicting further damage on the wounded Thunder.