Thunder 98, Grizzlies 95
Nuggets from my notebook from Wednesday’s win at Memphis.
- I imagine there will be plenty of talk about Russell Westbrook’s performance tonight. And rightfully so. He went 0-for-13 with only four points and six assists against four turnovers in 31 minutes. It was a performance that rivaled the worst of any in his career to date. But there was a reason for the struggles. As I wrote for Thursday’s paper, Westbrook let his emotions get the best of him. It was clear as day and once he got heated there was no putting out that fire.
- As I laid out in the above link, Westbrook and Kevin Durant got into a heated exchange on the bench during a second quarter timeout. It was as fierce as anything I’ve ever seen from the two publicly and the kind of scene that lends credence to the alleged beef between the two. It didn’t appear to have anything AT ALL to do with the rumored rift that so many seemingly wants to be true. But they had to be separated more than once as they lashed out at each other. Fans in the first few rows behind the bench even came to their feet as if a fight was breaking out. The two eventually sat at opposite ends of the five-man unit that was sitting while waiting on Thunder coach Scott Brooks to enter the huddle. But when Durant and Westbrook took the court, Durant walked over and patted Westbrook on the back of the head.
- Durant on the altercation: “We’re going to disagree sometimes, like I’ve always been saying. But I’m behind him 110 percent, and he’s the same way with me. And you seen when we came on the floor we clicked and everything started to work from there.”
- Brooks on the altercation: “When you have an intense game, you’re going to have arguments. I have no problem with it. I think it’s healthy. I think you learn from it and you get better with it. That’s just part of an NBA game. We have it and other teams have it. Good teams, bad teams and average teams. I have no issues with how our guys compete. At times they get frustrated. But it’s always about the team.”
- Westbrook did not address the media after the game. He wasn’t seen by reporters in the locker room when the media was permitted to enter. It’s not uncommon of Westbrook, though, to dart out of the dressing room. He typically is one of the first out after every game.
- Once again, the altercation did not start between Durant and Westbrook. It simply happened to boil over to them. The frustration started when Westbrook attacked the paint on a drive with about 3 1/2 minutes remaining in the second quarter and kicked it out to a wide open Thabo Sefolosha in the corner. Sefolosha pump faked and passed up the shot, prompting Westbrook to scream at him to “shoot the (expletive) ball.” Sefolosha immediately told Westbrook to relax while acknowledging his mistake. But Westbrook was still steaming as Durant stepped to the free throw line at the end of the sequence. Durant tried to calm Westbrook down, and Kendrick Perkins chimed in with a few words as well while standing at the opposite side of the court from Westbrook. The bench incident took place during a timeout a minute later.
- Westbrook was actually right when he demanded Thabo shoot. Westbrook just handled it the wrong way. Although Westbrook chose his words poorly, his reaction was no different than things I’ve seen from Chris Paul when demanding his teammates do something. Initially, I viewed it as a sign of Westbrook’s growing leadership and improved confidence in communicating, even if it means getting on someone. He was holding his teammate accountable, something he is obligated to do as the Thunder’s floor general. But it looked like he just didn’t know when to let it go.
- If you want my opinion, Durant and Westbrook are fine. There is nothing to worry about between the two. I don’t pretend to know if things will remain that way.
- KD and Russ finished the game extremely well. Russ was passing Durant the ball according to the plays being called and there was no sign of resentment or tension. If there is something cancerous about their relationship, you certainly couldn’t tell by how they played together after halftime and cheered each other on the rest of the way.
- Westbrook will have to learn from this experience. He let his emotions negatively impact nearly every other aspect of his game. His defense on Jeremy Pargo was lousy, largely because he began playing with his heart instead of his head. On numerous occasions, Westbrook gambled defensively, going for steals in the backcourt only to come up short and allow Pargo a lane to see the court and make a play. Pargo got anything he wanted on those possessions and turned their one-on-one matchup into a reference for his resume.
- I thought Brooks should have sat Westbrook the entire fourth quarter when it was clear his head was no longer in the game. It would have been a tough call considering Westbrook is capable of catching fire and putting pressure on the defense so quickly that you could be doing the team a disservice by having him sit. But tonight, if there ever was a night, might have been the exception. Eric Maynor was his same steady self, and probably could have easily done enough to help the Thunder get out of here with a win.
- Maynor did, however, make a bonehead cross-court pass with eight seconds remaining that nearly cost the Thunder the game. It resulted in a Rudy Gay dunk and pulled the Grizzlies within two with five seconds remaining. It was Maynor’s only turnover of the night.
- Fans seated immediately behind the Thunder bench who had an up close view of spat rode Westbrook the rest of the night. One front row fan I spoke with shortly after the incident called Westbrook a cancer. A fan seated a few rows back, talking to another fan, said the Thunder will never win a championship with Westbrook at point guard. I disagree with both of those statements, but that’s the type of reaction that came out of that scene and, fair or not, likely will continue to be spewed throughout the season.
- At one point, security had to enter the stands to tell one fan who was riding Westbrook to settle down.
- The altercation between Durant and Westbrook will overshadow a great win for the Thunder, which is now 3-0 for the first time in the franchise’s Oklahoma City era. This was a hard-fought victory against a talented team playing its home opener in front of a rowdy crowd.
- For as poor of a performance as this was for Westbrook, he actually started the game with great poise and balance. He hit Serge Ibaka on a pick-and-pop for a jumper. He found a cutting Sefolosha under the basket for an easy deuce. And he drove and dished to Sefolosha for a 3. When he picked up his second foul with 4:45 remaining in the first quarter, though, it seemed to take him out of his rhythm and it went south from there.
- Both teams shot below 32 percent in the first quarter, with Memphis shooting 4-for-21 (19 percent) in the period. The Grizzlies didn’t get their first field goal until Zach Randolph had a layup with 4:04 left in the period. They were 0-for-12 prior to that.
- Here’s how funky of a first period it was. Sefolosha led all scorers with eight points. Sefolosha finished with…eight points.
- Perkins and Nick Collison both got whistled for two fouls in the first five minutes. It led to Cole Aldrich making his season debut and making the most of it. But you wouldn’t know it from looking at Aldrich’s final line: zero points, zero assists, zero steals, one rebound, one blocked shot and one foul. But that block came against Marc Gasol on Aldrich’s first defensive sequence. Aldrich then won a jump ball against Gasol. And he hit the floor twice for loose balls. He also had a tap out that landed in the wrong hands but characterized how active he was in keeping plays alive.
- Pargo, an undrafted rookie out of Gonzaga, had an opportunity tonight only because starting point guard Mike Conley sprained his ankle on the opening possession. He was helped off the floor 24 seconds in and did not return. Pargo scored 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting with seven assists, three rebounds, two steals and one turnover in 37 minutes.
- Brooks said he told Westbrook in the last three minutes that he didn’t care how many shots he had missed. Brooks said he told Westbrook to “make a play to help us win.” And Brooks managed to find something Westbrook did well. “He set three great screens for KD,” Brooks said. “KD in the past had trouble getting that ball at the nail, and he got there because of Russell’s three great screens.”
- The Thunder’s D was great tonight. There were some shooters left open, but the biggest problem was Memphis had way too many offensive rebounds. The Griz gobbled up 19, which led to 23 second-chance points and helped them outscore OKC 44-26 in the paint.
- Lazar Hayward was active tonight and dressed for the first time. He had an injured thumb that had kept him sidelined. But keep an eye on him. We could see him crack the lineup at some point.
- Daequan Cook is making things extremely tough on Hayward though. Cook continues to provide huge shots in big moments. He had nine points tonight, going 3-for-4 from deep, including two in the final nine minutes that helped the Thunder build a 12-point lead.
- Perk is playing with a ton of confidence right now. When he drew a foul on Gasol in the first quarter, he strutted to the line saying to no one and everyone “Yeaaaah, it’s like that today.” A tad later, Perk elevated as high as I’ve ever seen him get and nearly posterized Josh Davis. All that was missing was a stronger finish.
- A 7-year-old girl sang the national anthem tonight. I couldn’t take my eyes off of Maurice Cheeks as she made her way through it. I swear when she had a slight pause at one point Cheeks had a look on his face like “not again.” When she got through it cleanly, Brooks immediately pointed at Cheeks and laughed along with assistant Rex Kalamian about something. It had to be the same thing I was thinking.
- Griz fans booed every player in the Thunder’s starting lineup during pre-game intros. Brooks even got booed.
- Although Brooks said before the game that it’s too early to call the Thunder-Grizzlies a rivalry, James Harden said it has turned into just that. “Yeah, you can say that,” Harden said. “Two physical teams. Young teams. Every time we play against each other it’s like a very tough battle. We know it’s going to be a battle so both teams come in looking to do whatever it takes to win.”
- I hate that I’ve gotten this far without mentioning Harden’s game. And if you stuck with me this long, you deserve a drink on me. But Harden was phenomenal. He had 20 points tonight in 30 minutes off the bench. He added seven boards and two assists while not turning it over a single time. This guy is destined to win the Sixth Man Award this year. Through three games, he’s averaging 18.3 points on 45.1 percent shooting. Dude hasn’t attempted more than 11 shots in any game. He’s gotten to the line 27 times, making 22, and has only three turnovers thus far. Where’s John Hollinger when you need him? Somebody tally Harden’s player efficiency rating and true shooting percentage and get back to me.
- KD did something I loved on the first possession of the third quarter. He pushed Tony Allen to the floor while battling for positioning in the post. It’s something Durant learned during the playoffs last year. If he has a physical defender guarding him and the refs are letting him get away with it, he then has leeway to push back. What Durant did was clearly a foul, but it went uncalled. That’s going to be important for KD to have in his back pocket come playoff time.
- Durant also pulled out the one-legged Dirk Nowitzki again tonight. He got Allen with it moments after the push-down possession. It is an absolute beautiful shot to witness live. And when you hear the ooohs and ahhhs from the crowd as it splashes through the net, you know everyone in the arena appreciates it, too.
- Am I the only one who thought of this when KD hit that step-back tonight over Rudy Gay?
- Here’s what Durant said before the game when asked about Allen’s D: “He’s just a gnat. He’s not a trash talker or anything like that. He just frustrates you by how hard he plays. Whenever he gets screened, he never gives up on the play and that’s the type of player you respect. He made me better that series last year. It kind of took me awhile to figure out how he was going to play me, but I figured it out over time.”
- Durant had his right fingers being worked on by the medical staff between the end of the third and start of the fourth. He said he got banged up a little in practice the other day but is fine and added it’s not affecting him on the court.
- Up next: Dallas on Thursday in the first of six TNT games for the Thunder.
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