Thunder Evens The Series With A Tough-Nosed Win
News, notes and observations from Tuesday’s 111-102 Game 2 win over Memphis.
- If the Thunder is going to win this series, it looks like it will have to do it by being a bully. That’s what Game 2 was about, and that’s how the rest of this series could shape up. The Thunder became physical against Memphis, matching their toughness and refusing to yield one bit. The key is doing that three more times. Whichever team does it wins.
- Nick Collison. Player of the game? It’s not out of the question. The work he did limiting Zach Randolph was extremely impressive. Randolph went 0-for-5 in the second half, and much of that was because Collison was pushing him off his spots, contesting his shots and working hard to deny him a clean entry pass. Big time performance out of Collison tonight.
- We knew Collison would play more minutes tonight after foul trouble took him out of Game 1. But he was called in for extra duty when Serge Ibaka banged knees late in the first half and did not start the third quarter. Ibaka later checked back in with just less than three minutes remaining in the third period and looked fine. I suspect he’ll be OK for Game 3. Three days off should help.
- Gotta give it up to the bench. The reserves were excellent. They outscored Memphis’ reserves 48-29 and kept the pressure on. When those guys play like that, Memphis can’t beat the Thunder.
- James Harden showed a pulse tonight after taking just five shots in Game 1. He led the charge off the bench by scoring 21 points and getting to the stripe 11 times, making all of them. You knew it this was a different game for him by the aggressiveness he showed early. That’s become a tell-all sign for Harden. If he attacks with success early, he’s going to have a good game. When he doesn’t, it’s going to be a long night.
- Eric Maynor was as confident as I’ve ever seen him tonight. He took 3s with a swagger. When he let them go, he kind of landed and walked away like there was no doubt. Kind of like Al Bundy screaming, ‘STRRRRRIKE!” right after bowling the ball. Maynor and James scored all 10 points during the Thunder’s 10-3 run to end the first period.
- The Thunder’s defense just looked better tonight. I paid close attention to the pick-and-roll defense on Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. That ate the Thunder up in Game 1. Tonight, Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins did a much better job of applying pressure at the point of the ball. But the weak side defenders also stepped up by rotating with more effort and cutting off shots at the rim. Ibaka was huge in that aspect. His shot-blocking and mere threat to block shots denied or altered several Memphis possessions out of the pick and roll.
- Speaking of Conley. Can we all agree that the kid is good? That’s enough of underestimating him or mocking the money Memphis gave him. He’s developed a respectable perimeter shot (although I’d still give it to him) and knows how to be a floor general. He did whatever he wanted to tonight.
- The Thunder turned it over too much tonight; 16 is still too many. But the difference is the Grizzlies had 16 as well, twice as many as they had in Game 1.
- I’d say 102 points is much more reasonable for the Thunder to allow the Grizzlies to score.
- Westbrook was under control tonight most of the game and had a nice performance. This game is an example of why it doesn’t matter if he takes more shots than Durant. He had two more tonight, and it means absolutely nothing.
- Maynor with a not-so-subtle statement defending Westbrook: “Russell has been playing well for us all year. No matter what, we need him to continue to play the way he has all season if we want to keep winning.”
- Daequan Cook on the key to the offense: “We were just a lot more patient with our offense, going at our pace and not playing as fast.”
- There was a lot of trash talking going on in this one. Kendrick Perkins and Randolph were jawing all night and had to be separated multiple times. Harden got into it with Darrell Arthur, with Arthur landing an elbow on Harden that was not called by the officials following a play. And Harden and O.J. Mayo were yapping late in the game. This one had the feel of playoff basketball.
- Shane Battier was getting beat up tonight. His body will be feeling it tomorrow. The Thunder was running him off screens and Ibaka was treating him like Andrew Bynum on the foul line during free throws. The Thunder might want to continue to do that if he’s going to be a key defensive option for Kevin Durant.
- Again, I was impressed with how Durant was able to be effective despite Battier, Tony Allen and Sam Young serving as his own personal three-pronged defensive attack. We’re watching Durant grow into an unstoppable player. The guys who not long ago were the best defenders against KD are now being torched like everybody else. Allen had some success crowding Durant tonight and stripping him when he tried to put it on the floor. But you can’t win ‘em all. Good showing by KD.
- Another good showing by KD: wearing the same blue Thunder T-shirt the 18,000-plus fans wore as he sat on the bench.
- A guy hit a halfcourt shot for 20K tonight. If I’m not mistaken, it’s the third time that’s happened this season. I love how the crowd erupts when one of those goes down. But to the Game ops crew: can we not celebrate the bucket with The Pointer Sisters’ “I’m So Excited.” Can’t we get some DJ Khaled “All I Do is Win?” Is that too much to ask?
- Best part of the halfcourt shot was seeing Nate Robinson run out and high five the guy.
- Thunder coach Scott Brooks: “This win tonight, all it does is guarantees a Game 5.”
- What’s a tough place to play, Denver or Memphis? I think nine out of 10 of you would say Denver, right? The point is if the Thunder got one in Denver it can certainly get one in Memphis and regain home-court advantage. It’ll have to Saturday or Monday. The fun is only beginning.
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