Grizzlies 90, Thunder 89
Nuggets from my notebook from Wednesday’s loss at Memphis.
- Well, at least Orlando is on deck.
- I’m joking of course, but Kevin Durant was serious when he said after tonight’s game that the Magic game is now a must win. “We’ll get a win in Orlando,” Durant said when asked how the Thunder bounces back after two straight losses. “Simple. It’s a must-win game. A must-win game.”
- So that’s what it’s come to for the Thunder? A game against an Eastern Conference bottom feeder is now a must win? Sad state of affairs but in a way it sort of sums up where this team is right now.
- After tonight’s loss, the Thunder is now 11-5 since the All-Star break and, more discouraging, just 3-7 against San Antonio, Memphis and Denver. Those are the three teams other than the Thunder that have top four records in the Western Conference. Two of those teams the Thunder seemingly must go through to get back to the Finals. Throw in the Thunder’s 0-2 record against Miami and, well, things just don’t look good going forward.
- Here’s what gets me. For an elite team, the Thunder sure does succumb to the opponent’s style quite often. Against bad teams, forget about it. Against mediocre clubs, no problem. But against the best of the best? When is the last time the Thunder dictated the style and pace of the game? I guess you can point to a handful of Clippers games. But there is a growing sentiment that the Clippers might be in the same boat as the Thunder as pretenders.
- With that said, I still don’t think the Nuggets can beat the Thunder in a playoff series. The Grizzlies and Spurs? Let’s just say the Thunder better pack a lunch. Because those series will be long, drawn-out battles.
- Back to the style of play for a moment. The thing about it is on Tuesday the Thunder got sucked into a track meet and loss. Tonight, the Thunder was a victim of the Grizzlies’ patented grit-grind game. At what point is the Thunder supposed to be better than that? When is OKC going to make the opponent, a quality opponent, play its game? Perhaps the loss of James Harden resets the clock on that goal. Either way, achieving that level of performance sure seems a long way off.
- This could totally be a reactionary question. I’m willing to admit that. But what is the Thunder’s identity? Does this team have one? We know it has two all-league players in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and wins a lot of games. But what exactly is this team’s hallmark beyond that? Defense? We’ve seen enough this season to know that’s closer to a dream than a reality. Offense? Then why such struggles when it matters most? Teamwork? That’s laughable. Inside? Outside? What is it? I can’t really tell you at the moment. But, hey, all these regular season wins sure look nice.
- The Thunder shot a season-low 35.7 percent tonight. The previous low mark was set on Nov. 12 at Detroit. For a time, the Thunder was headed for a season low in points as well. Thanks to a few late free throws, OKC narrowly eclipsed the previous low of 84, set against San Antonio in the season opener.
- OKC started the game 2-for-14 with three turnovers. After the first period, the Thunder was 4-for-18 with four turnovers.
- Durant and Westbrook combined for four points on 1-for-11 shooting in the first quarter.
- At various points tonight, Durant and Westbrook were 3-for-17 and 7-for-26.
- When Durant and Westbrook were 6-for-21, they had both made shots immediately after the whistle. Just the kind of night it was.
- A new sign of the Thunder struggling offensively has emerged. For the longest time it was (and continues to be) Durant sticking his arm out way beyond the 3-point line trying to get the ball while his defender blankets him. Now, it’s Durant’s rip through move. Whenever KD goes to that move, nine times out of 10 it seems to be out of desperation.
- After almost everyone killed Memphis for trading Rudy Gay, the Grizzlies look better equipped to match up with the Thunder in the playoffs. Tayshaun Prince on Durant is like Shane Battier lite. And Tony Allen on Westbrook gives the Thunder fits. All the Grizzlies are missing is one more 3-point shooter.
- I would have paid good money just to watch Nick Collison and Zach Randolph battle for rebounds tonight. That was a big-league, no-boys-allowed battle they had.
- Randolph in the fourth quarter and overtime: two points on 1-for-9 shooting with two turnovers. Take a bow, Mr. Collison.
- Grizzlies fan seated directly behind me when Marc Gasol was posting up Hasheem Thabeet on the first possession of the second quarter: “Come on, Marc, you got that. You know how bad he is.”
- Gasol stole the victory with a tip-in of Randolph’s final miss. The way he came in was reminiscent of his brother, Pau, doing the same in the 2010 playoffs to seal Game 6. Yes, Marc got away with a push.
- Gasol on the play: “I thought that Zach’s shot was going to go in, but no. I just crashed the boards and got lucky.”
- Scott Brooks on not calling his final 20-second timeout after Gasol’s bucket: “We probably should have, there’s no question. It was a bang-bang play.”
- Yes, Brooks should have called that timeout. No excuses there. But keep in mind that even if he did, the Thunder still has a pretty slim chance of winning this game.
- Unless the Thunder could have drawn up a similar inbounds play to what Memphis ran to get Jerryd Bayless wide open for a lob at the rim near the end of regulation.
- Bayless’ game-tying 3 was reminiscent of Grevis Vasquez huge 3-pointer in that triple overtime thriller. Reggie Jackson should have stayed down on the fake.
- Why didn’t the Thunder foul Bayless instead of giving up a 3? “It’s not something that we’ve done in the past,” Brooks said. “NBA players are so good at seeing that and gathering and shooting that basketball. So it’s nothing that we’ve done yet. That’s not saying at some time in the future we won’t consider that. But it was a situation where we were switching everything, and he made a great play. He made a contested, shot-fake 3. Sometimes you can do all you can do and they made the shot. We live with that.”
- Tony Allen could play for my team any day.
- Kendrick Perkins had a team-high 16 rebounds tonight. It’s one shy of tying the most he’s ever had as a member of the Thunder.
- Another display of chemistry between Durant and Westbrook that some refuse to see was on display tonight. It came when Durant was chewing up the Grizzlies and leading the Thunder’s third-quarter rally. KD had scored 13 straight and from the bench Westbrook was shouting to Jackson to “get the ball to KD.” When Jackson did, Durant nailed a bank shot that gave the Thunder its first lead of the night at 57-56. Right before an ensuing pair of Grizzlies foul shots, Westbrook then walked up to Durant in front of the Thunder bench and said “don’t stop.”
- Nice performance by Kevin Martin. He sort of came to the Thunder’s rescue early with 10 first-half points at a time when little was going right offensively. And he kept it up in the second half when given an opportunity.
- Perkins hit K-Mart with a perfect extra pass for a 3 with 1:26 that put OKC ahead by six, its largest lead of the night. It seemed then like this was the Thunder’s game.
- Memphis might be the only town that hates Westbrook more than Denver.
- Cowboys defensive lineman DeMarcus Ware was in attendance tonight.
- Jackson played 23 minutes tonight. Fisher played 11. Both were in the game when Thabo Sefolosha should have been in the second half.
- Up next. At Orlando on Friday.
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