Grizzlies 105, Thunder 101
News, notes and observations from Tuesday’s loss to Memphis.
- A few people asked me after the game (and some during when the outcome looked in doubt) whether this could be classified as a bad loss. I say yes. But only on the surface. The Grizzlies were shorthanded. They were on the second night of a back-to-back. And, quite frankly, they’re mediocre. The Thunder, meanwhile, had its full complement of players, had not laced them up since Saturday and is a top four team in the West. For all those reasons, this was a bad loss. But the Grizzlies played terrific basketball in the second half and earned this win. It’s not like the Thunder lost to a team going through the motions.
- With that said, OKC couldn’t have rolled out the red carpet more than it did. The Thunder blew a 13-point lead (10 at the half) by throwing it away a season-high 23 times, 12 coming in the second half. Memphis scored 31 points off the Thunder’s turnovers and had 27 fast break points.
- Bad offense burned the Thunder. Disregard the turnovers. Even in spite of them the Thunder could have won this game. But OKC couldn’t get a quality shot on three separate occasions in late-game situations — once at the end of regulation and twice in the final 17 seconds of overtime. The Thunder also missed six free throws in the fourth quarter and overtime (all of them by the point guards, Russell Westbrook and Eric Maynor, of all players). And OKC made sharing the ball look like a foreign subject.
- Strangely enough, the defense was actually good tonight. The Thunder held the Grizzlies to 24 points in the first quarter. It was the first time in seven games that the Thunder has held an opponent under 25 points in the opening period. Memphis’ 44 first-half points marked the first time in 14 games that the Thunder held an opponent to less than 50 points in the first half. OKC allowed Memphis to outscore it 30-17 in the third quarter, but much of that goes back to the turnover issues. The Thunder had six in the period, which led to 10 Grizzlies points. But the Thunder out-rebounded the Grizzlies 58-36, which included an 18-6 advantage on the offensive glass.
- From a team standpoint, the defense was solid. I did not like Kevin Durant’s defense at all tonight. KD wasn’t really engaged on that end all night. Tony Allen beat Durant with sheer hustle on at least two possessions, scoring in transition both times as Durant jogged back on D. The second instance saw Durant stroll back as Allen sprinted. And when Greivis Vasquez missed a 3-pointer, Allen was right there for the putback while KD was standing near the 3-point line watching. The play gave the Grizzlies a 72-71 lead, their first since 22-21.
- The rest of this entry could easily be about Allen. He was awesome tonight. His defense on Durant was smothering. And his assertiveness on offense was much-needed for the Grizzlies and unmatched by anyone on the Thunder.
- Here’s what Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of Allen: “The guy was All-Pro all night. Both ends of the floor. Twenty-seven points and he made Kevin work for every shot. I thought he won the game for them. Give him a lot of credit. He’s a competitor. Certain guys in this league compete every possession and he’s one of them. He competes every possession. And I love guys that hate getting scored on and he’s one of them.”
- I don’t want to assume anything because I do not know. But Durant didn’t seem to have as much confidence against Allen as he has against most other defenders. Allen did a great job of playing physical. Again, I don’t know what Durant was thinking in his individual matchup, but here’s a stat that clearly shows which of the two were the aggressor: Allen shot 12 free throws. Durant shot five.
- Grizzlies guard O.J. Mayo missed the game while serving game eight of his 10-game suspension. Rudy Gay was ruled out just before tip-off because of a sprained toe. Raise your hand if you thought the Grizzlies would get a combined 41 points on 14 of 23 shooting out of Allen and Sam Young.
- Nenad Krstic was great tonight. Wait, let me take it a step further. He might have been the Thunder’s best player tonight. He hit the glass hard and provided some nice offense early with some crafty moves around the rim. And I thought he also made Marc Gasol earn everything he got by forcing him into some tough shots and preventing him from having his way in the paint.
- Serge Ibaka was questionable for tonight’s game with a rib injury. But he played and played well at the start. Zach Randolph was muscling Jeff Green in the paint early and got going from the opening tip. But Ibaka’s length slowed down Randolph and forced him to change his release. It didn’t last long, though. Randolph eventually got it going and finished with his customary 31 and 14 against the Thunder.
- Interesting scene that the cameras likely didn’t catch with 1:09 left in the overtime period. Randolph and Ibaka were about two seconds from squaring off. You could see Randolph starting to clinch his fists. Westbrook had just driven into the paint and Randolph and Ibaka got tangled up. Ibaka must have taken a shot to the mouth because he kept holding his tooth as he began exchanging words with Randolph. Z-Bo didn’t apologize. The two were battling all night and Randolph was clearly tired of it. Green was trying to separate the two but Randolph tried to keep it going. As Westbrook prepared to take his foul shots (which ended in a costly empty trip), Randolph continued egging Ibaka on, nudging him and talking the whole time. Amazingly, Ibaka never bit. And you don’t see that every day. I’m going to give Ibaka the benefit of the doubt and say he made the right decision and kept his emotions in check. Because I’ve never seen Ibaka back down from anyone.
- Westbrook played outside of himself again. And, if you’ve been paying close attention, that’s becoming the elephant in the room. The Thunder is winning. Westbrook is putting up great numbers. And he’s an All-Star. So things are all good for now. But more and more, Westbrook is taking ill-advised shots and bordering on selfish play. Tonight, he charged into the lane too often without a plan and he made too many careless passes. He had a game-high eight turnovers, two less than the entire Grizzlies team. What makes the situation so sticky is that reeling him in could destroy what makes him so effective. But by letting him run free, is it ultimately detrimental to the offense?
- After playing seven minutes in the first quarter, Thabo Sefolosha didn’t play at all in the second period. He then came out in the third quarter and sunk two silky-smooth jumpers like that’s what he does. He also scored on layup off a feed from Westbrook following a backdoor cut. Sefolosha didn’t play again in the fourth quarter or overtime, presumably because his minutes are being limited as he recovers from a knee injury. Sefolosoha played an even 15 minutes tonight. He had 18 in Utah and 11 in Phoenix.
- Perhaps Brooks should have stuck with Sefolosha, though, because Jeff Green was abysmal. As I said earlier, his defense on Randolph wasn’t really effective and his offense was nowhere to be found tonight. He missed 10 of 12 shots and had four turnovers against one assist. Yet, he played 44 minutes. You’ve got to think Sefolosha or James Harden would have been better options late, especially when Green moved over onto Young.
- Referee Bob Delaney doesn’t want to make a call unless he absolutely has to.
- Small thing the box score doesn’t show: Nick Collison got away with tapping the ball as it came out of the net following a Grizzlies bucket. He sent it dribbling into the courtside seats next to the goal post. Gasol about lost it. But the ref (Delaney) claimed he didn’t see it. That’s typically a delay of game.
- Ibaka showed his stone hands three times in the fourth quarter when he fumbled passes from three different players in about five possessions. He ruined a sweet drop-off pass by Maynor, let a beautiful touch pass by Green go off his fingers and couldn’t corral another dish from Harden.
- The Thunder fell to 5-1 in overtime and 17-7 in games decided by six points or less.
- One last thing about Allen. Dude reminds me of my Uncle C.J. There really is no good way for me to explain that. All I can say is everybody grows up with that uncle that you know has a couple of screws loose. You know the one. When I was a kid, Uncle C.J. saw the world his way, had something to say about everything and could be so mean and intimidating that he’d make you walk the other way. Deep down, Uncle C.J. made you nervous. You never knew what could be next. That’s Tony Allen.
- Classic Tony Allen: “I just tried to make plays all throughout the game, whether it was passing out Gatorade’s or telling guys what to do on pick-and-rolls when I went in the game…I just tried to do it all.”
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