The fouls kept mounting. Nine against the Thunder in the first quarter alone. Two more in the first three minutes of the second quarter.
Didn't set well with the Big Blue crowd. But somewhere behind that scowl, Kendrick Perkins was smiling.
“Be the instigator, not the retaliator,” Perk said. “You always gotta be the instigator.”
In a 111-102 victory over Memphis on Tuesday night, the Thunder went from passive to aggressive, from the bullied to the bullies, from the brink of elimination to a brand new series.
With a make-my-day attitude, the Thunder frustrated Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, who were post monsters in Memphis' Game 1 victory.
Randolph and Gasol, who combined for 54 points on 21-of-33 shooting Sunday, had just 28 points on 5-of-22 shooting Tuesday night.
Perkins made Gasol look like the little brother that he is — Pau returned to No. 1 in the Gasol poll — and Nick Collison played 25 minutes of splendid defense on Randolph, who was beginning to develop a reputation as unstoppable.
Instead, Randolph was stopped cold. He made just two shots, and that Gran Torino attitude that Perkins brought from Boston filtered down to every Boomer.
In truth, it's an attitude Collison always has had.
“He brings that toughness every time down the court,” Thunder coach Scotty Brooks said. “He's a winner. He's all about making winning basketball plays.”
Second the motion, said Perkins.
“The key to the game was Nick Collison,” Perkins said. “The way he played was outstanding. Obviously, defense won the game for us.”
Strategy wasn't the key. Effort was. Effort and desire and attitude.
“They were just more aggressive,” said Memphis coach Lionel Hollins. “Classic case of the more desperate team. The desperate team usually wins. They came out and attacked.
We just didn't have enough fight in us.”
Now that the Thunder has found a tonic for Randolph, who through seven playoff games seemed to be carving himself a statue for Springfield, Mass., advantage OKC. For the Grizzlies have found no such remedy for Kevin Durant.
Durant played another fabulous game, 26 points on 18 shots, and Russell Westbrook and the Thunder bench kicked in a spiffy game, too.
This series moves to Memphis with the Thunder buoyed by the knowledge that it has stood up to Randolph, while Durant still flies high.
“The first three quarters, we played as well as anybody can play on Zac,” Brooks said.
Randolph scored eight points in the fourth quarter, all of them when the game was decided. Randolph scored 11 of his 15 points on foul shots, but those points came at a price.
All those early fouls delivered the message. No easy baskets. Not on this night. Maybe not the rest of the series.
Perkins said the Thunder had a few intense meetings since that Game 1 embarrassment.
“We came out and competed,” Perkins said. “Guys understand it's the playoffs. It's not about your numbers, it's not about your stats. It's about competing.
“We just competed tonight. We played ‘em hard. The first night, we let ‘em get comfortable. We played great team defense tonight.”
Perkins stayed on Gasol no matter where the 7-footer went. No uncontested shots or passes for Gasol.
Collison, mostly, and Serge Ibaka put a body on Randolph and tried to shove him farther outside. It mostly worked.
“Nick did what he do,” Perkins said. “He frustrated Randolph. Played great defense on him.”
The Thunder didn't change much strategy. Oh, they ran an extra defender at Randolph a few times and even Gasol. But mostly they instigated rather than reacted.
And now we've got a series on our hands.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.