Thunder Cruises To A Cakewalk In Game 5
Nuggets from my notebook from Wednesday’s 99-72 Game 5 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
- As I wrote in Thursday’s paper, this storm started brewing Saturday. That’s when the Thunder suffered that disheartening defeat in Game 3. This puppy built steam after Monday’s gritty triple-overtime win. The experiences the Thunder went through in those two games alone have brought the Thunder together and taught this team so many things about the Grizzlies, this series and playoff basketball. That was the difference tonight.
- Kevin Durant put it best. “We’re seeing all different types of scenarios playing in this series,” he said. “So we can handle anything.”
- Wanna know when this game was won? With 3:47 left in the second quarter. That was when James Harden finished a fast break dunk off a feed from Russell Westbrook. The crowd erupted. The Thunder grew fangs. Memphis checked out.
- The Thunder closed the first half on a 16-4 run to take a 46-35 lead at the break. It was over right then. KD confirmed he sensed the wheels coming off for Memphis right then and there. “We got a good lead going into halftime,” Durant said. “In the last two minutes, we really locked in and got stops and that led to some transition points.” The Thunder slowly twisted the knife in the third, enlarging its lead to 14, then 15, then 16, then 19. Ball game.
- Speaking of transition points. The Thunder’s did a good job of forcing turnovers early to get transition opportunities. Memphis was sloppy with the ball a bit. But it matters little how those turnovers come. OKC had 11 fast break points at halftime and that was a critical aspect tonight. The Thunder’s 20 total fast break points marked the second time in as many games that OKC has had at least 20 fast break points. That easy offense needs to show up one more time for the Thunder to close out this series.
- The Thunder was absolutely awful taking care of the ball early. Nine turnovers in the first quarter is pretty ridiculous. They led to eight Grizzlies points and contributed to a terrible start for the Thunder.
- Memphis gave the Thunder a different look tonight in putting Tony Allen on Westbrook.Mike Conley was on Thabo Sefolosha and Sam Young guarded Durant. Didn’t really make much of a difference if you ask me. Westbrook still was able to get to the rim and set up his teammates for good looks. It just so happened that the Thunder couldn’t buy a bucket in the early going. Now that Memphis coach Lionel Hollins has pulled that card, however, and the Grizzlies are now facing elimination, expect to see Allen again start on Westbrook in Game 6.
- With that said, not for a second did I like Thunder coach Scott Brooks‘ decision to stick with Sefolosha once the Grizzlies showed the switch. If this was the Lakers, fine. But Kobe Bryant is somewhere fishing. The Thunder didn’t need Sefolosha’s defense, and he dang sure wasn’t providing any offense (did you see his first shot from the right corner?). Brooks can’t let Sefolosha stay on the floor and be a liability that allows the opposing team to take it easy. Worse of all, Harden didn’t jump off the bench to check in for the first time until five minutes were showing on the first-quarter clock. That’s seven minutes of, well, basically wasted basketball. There’s no wonder the Thunder had just 17 first-quarter points.
- Those early turnovers by the Thunder gave Memphis five more shot attempts in the first period, 20-15. At that point, the Grizzlies hadn’t grabbed a single offensive rebound and were being out-rebounded 11-6. But you knew that turnover pace wouldn’t hold. If so, the Thunder would have had 36 turnovers. These aren’t the Timberwolves we’re talking about.
- OKC had just two turnovers in the second quarter. That was huge for getting the offense humming.
- Once again, the Thunder’s bench came to play. Harden (who, tip your cap Thunder fans, got a well-deserved ovation when he finally did check in) helped the Thunder close the first period on a 9-3 run. He had seven points during the spurt on an nice aggressive driving layup, a transition layup and a 3-pointer off an assist from Eric Maynor. Nick Collison provided his usual stellar defense, Maynor got everyone involved (game-high nine assists) and Nazr Mohammed outscored, that’s right outscored, Zach Randolph, 10-9.
- Daequan Cook deserves his own bullet for his five first-half points and hustle that sparked the second-quarter turning point and his 18-point effort that gave this team and crowd so much energy. But this bullet also stands on its own because he threw down a fast break dunk with six minutes remaining. Not sure we’ve seen Cook throw one down all season. Not sure we ever will again.
- In a blog before the game, I posed the question of whether the refs were calling this series both ways. It certainly didn’t appear to be that way early. Memphis was whistled for just four fouls in the first 21:02 compared to 10 fouls for the Thunder.
- Serge Ibaka was again the whipping boy when it came to the whistles. He picked up two quick fouls in about 47 seconds midway through the first quarter. I’m not so sure about the first one, but the second one definitely could have gone uncalled. This is the playoffs. But all series long, it seems like Memphis is the only team allowed to play physically.
- No matter if this series ends in 6 or extends to 7, somebody needs to tell the Thunder to smarten up about challenging Hamed Haddadi at the rim. That dude has incredible length and, in limited minutes, has blocked enough shots at the rim (might just be three all series) to warrant respect. Maynor did get a good layup up on the rim against him once in the second half, though.
- Referee Monty McCutchen had a horrible night! Generally one of the better refs, McCutchen struggled to keep his head in this one. First, he whiffed on a jump ball attempt between Ibaka and Marc Gasol and needed a redo. Then, on the redo, he tossed it in the air when Gasol wasn’t even looking. Next, McCutchen missed a call on a ball that clearly went off Darrell Arthur’s hands. He awarded it to Memphis thinking it had gone off Ibaka’s. Then he made matters worse by T-ing up Ibaka for complaining. But worst of all, McCutchen blew the whistle on my man Rumble and wouldn’t allow him to take one last halfcourt heave before the start of the fourth quarter. You don’t blow the whistle on Rumble. Period!
- Another thing about refs. I beg the NBA to do away with that bogus offensive foul call where a ball-handler is whistled for the charge when a defender slides under him even after he passes the ball. It’s one of the three worst calls in basketball. It’s not a foul. It’s foolish. Let’s say an offensive player away from the ball is running. Should a defensive player be allowed to cut him off and fall and get a charge call? Heavens no. So why is it a charge when a ball-handler has passed off? As one veteran NBA scribe put it to me tonight, “That is such a college bulls*** call.”
- One last thing about officiating and I’m done. Rewind to the McCutchen call against the Thunder even though the ball went off Arthur. There should be a rule that prevents the refs from T-ing up players for arguing a call if there is even the slightest doubt whether the call was accurate. If refs aren’t allowed to use instant replay in those situations (which I agree with) then they shouldn’t have the power to pull a double whammy and penalize a team twice for their stupid call first and sensitivity second.
- Hey, NBA world. Conley took 16 shots tonight. Randolph took only nine. You gonna freak out and over-blow that, too?
- Not trying to take away from the Thunder’s defense. But Randolph wasn’t into this game after halftime. He was 2-for-8 for five points in the first half and looked disinterested in the second. I mean, the guy only took one shot in his 15 second-half minutes. One shot! He got to the stripe five times, so that one attempt doesn’t illustrate that. But he’s got to take more than one shot. But here’s how you know he wasn’t in it mentally. He missed three straight free throws. The guy came into Game 5 having missed only five of 46.
- Nate Robinson finally got some burn tonight. Brooks ultimately emptied his bench with 4:17 left to play. But only after Nate became a trending topic on Twitter. The crowd was calling for him, too, with chants of “We want Nate” before he got in and “Let’s go Nate” once he took the court. Robinson then got a hearty ovation once he checked in. Very nice gesture by Thunder fans.
- Then Nate showed one of the reasons why he isn’t playing. Didn’t take long for him to show his tail with one particular play that is the furthest thing from Thunder basketball as you can get. As he dribbled up court, he past the halfcourt line and put the ball between his legs twice using only his right leg. Then he pulled up for 3. I love that kind of stuff, but even I knew that wasn’t the time for it. Felt like an And 1 game had broken out. A quick glance down the Thunder’s bench and I spotted one assistant coach lean over with a frustrated look on his face. If I read his lips right he said, “What was that bulls***.” I’m not sure about the first three words. But I have NO doubt about the last one.
- And finally, to the most important item of the evening: Durant’s backpack. Dude has been carrying that into post-game press conferences since the first round in Denver. Finally, someone asked him about it. Reporter: You know you’re backpack is getting quite the following. KD: Yeah. That’s why I wore it today. Reporter: Can you give fans at all a hint as to what’s inside of it. KD: I’ve got my iPad. I’ve got my bible. I’ve got my headphones and my phone chargers.” Mystery solved.
- Game 6 on Friday at Memphis. Start time is 8 p.m. If OKC wins, Game 1 between the Thunder and Mavs is Sunday at 2:30 in Dallas. If OKC loses, Game 7 of this series is Sunday at 2:30 inside Oklahoma City Arena.
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