Kevin Durant’s go-ahead jumper with 11.1 seconds left was not the Thunder’s most impressive play in a 93-91 victory over Memphis in Game 1 Sunday.
This was. You know those offensive possessions, where four or five players touch the ball and pass it around for an eventual easy shot? The Thunder had a defensive possession like that, in crunch time.
After Durant’s go-ahead basket, the Grizzlies inbounded the ball at midcourt. Durant deflected Tayshaun Prince’s inbounds pass, and though Marc Gasol still speared it, he caught the ball farther out than he would have liked.
Kendrick Perkins bodied up Gasol, who kept trying to pass to Zach Randolph on the low block, but Serge Ibaka did a yeoman’s job of denying Randolph. Finally with five or six seconds left, Gasol passed back out to Mike Conley, but Perkins made the pass depart under pressure, and Thabo Sefolosha got his hand on the ball and almost intercepted. Conley finally grabbed it but fell out of bounds as he did so.
And somewhere, Derek Fisher was guarding Quincy Pondexter, though I don’t claim to have witnessed what was going on there.
But four of the five Thunder defenders were heavily involved in touching or denying the ball. Quite a defensive possession.
* I never get tired of hearing NBA people talk about Durant.
Memphis coach Lionel Hollins: “Kevin Durant’s a great player and he got going to make some good shots. Talk about whatever you want to talk about, but he made those shots. That last one was a great play. Not everybody is making that shot at that particular point. He tends to make those shots.”
* Perkins, who said Durant told him he wasn’t going to miss anymore after a certain fourth-quarter misfire: “He had an easy look. They were long. I knew he would touch ‘em up.”
* As far as I’m concerned, Hollins playing Tony Allen only 20 1/2 minutes is doing the Thunder a big favor. Allen always has been a thorn in the Thunder’s flesh.
* Here’s how good of a game Kevin Martin had. Memphis reserves Jerryd Bayless and Pondexter seemed to light up the Thunder all game long. They combined to make eight of 15 shots and score 23 points. They were five of nine on 3-pointers. Martin scored 25 points on 8-for-14 shooting all by his lonesome.
If Martin plays like this, the Thunder wins the series. Any game he’s a no-show, the Thunder loses. No overly complicated.
“It was just moving without the ball, guys getting screens, and guys finding me,” Martin said of his second straight prolific-scoring game. “We’ve got a nice little flow going right now…We’re just making an extra effort to get everyone involved.”
A Thunder fan stopped me as I exited the court Sunday and asked what our headline was going to be. She said we could trot back out “Thank Kevins,” which was our Game 6 Houston headline.
But she was right. What a game for the combination of Durant and Kevin Martin. It’s not just the 60 points combined, or the 21 of 40 shooting. It’s 60 points and 21 of 40 shooting in a game like this.
The rest of the Thunder roster combined to make just 12 of 40 shots.
Martin had a second quarter to remember – 15 points, on 5-of-8 shooting, after the Thunder as a team scored just 14 points in the first quarter. Martin’s 15 points came in just nine minutes. He went back to the bench with three minutes left in the quarter.
* The Fisher renaissance continued. The star of Game 6 in Houston was solid again in Game 1 against Memphis. His steal off Conley with 20 seconds left set up Durant’s game-winner.
Hard to remember the days when Fisher was missing 20 straight 3-point shots.
Fisher said he hasn’t had any hard times in OKC. “To be honest, my time here has been just a joy, every single day,” Fisher said. “I’m not always going to get a lot of shots. I’m not always going to get a lot of minutes. But I know I can still help this team win.”
* Fisher on playing this kind of game: “They’re just as much fun every time you get the opportunity. These are the ones that help make it special.”
* Foul trouble eventually is going to bite the Thunder in this series. Ibaka, Nick Collison and Perkins each finished with four fouls. And Gasol and Randolph combined for only 12 foul shots, which means the Thunder maximized its fouls – Gasol and Randolph were fouled only seven times combined while shooting or while Memphis was in the bonus.
* Ibaka’s defense is much better than in the past against Randolph. It’s the height of respect that Scotty Brooks played Ibaka down the stretch instead of Collison.
Ibaka’s two fourth-quarter blocked shots were huge: 1. Ibaka rejected Gasol with 4:54 left, only two feet from the basket, and Memphis up 84-79. The block led to a fast-break 3-pointer by Fisher. 2. Ibaka rejected Randolph’s turnaround jumper with 1:31 left and Memphis up 88-86. That were two prime scoring opportunities for the Grizzlies, either of which would have given Memphis solid control.
* That first quarter was some bad basketball. Neither team hit the rim the first minute, neither team scored the first two minutes. The Thunder missed its first 10 shots.
Ibaka had two air balls the first 7:19 of the game. By quarter’s end, the Thunder had five baskets. Four by Durant and one by Sefolosha, off a Durant assist via an inbounds play.
If you’re looking for key plays early in the game, here was a major stretch. With four minutes left in the first quarter, the Thunder had six points, and it was looking like. OKC was on pace to score 36 points in the game. Then Durant muscled in for a three-point play. And 70 seconds later hit a 10-footer and was fouled for another three-point play. In 70 seconds, Durant matched the Thunder’s total from the first eight minutes, and it was a 12-12 game.
* This game included a nifty behind-the-back pass from Perkins to Ibaka, who whiffed on the close-in shot, and a behind-the-back dribble from Perkins, near midcourt. I swear, I have no idea how Brooks’ hair keeps from going gray.
* Perkins played the second-most minutes for the Thunder, 34:16. Durant played 43:42. Next was Martin (31:37) and Jackson (31:26).
Despite Russell Westbrook’s injury, the Thunder seems to have more depth than the Grizzlies. After Durant, the next four players with the most minutes were all Memphians – Gasol 40:02, Conley 38:06, Randolph 37:18 and Prince 34:56.
* Speaking of Jackson, the Thunder is going to have a heck of a backup point guard next year. After this playoff experience, Jackson is going to be a brand-new ballplayer. He and Westbrook will play together a bunch next season.
Jackson was solid Sunday: 12 points, 4-of-8 shooting, three rebounds, two assists, only one turnover, two cold-blooded foul shots with 2.9 seconds left.
* Strange lineup to open the second quarter. Fisher, Martin, Collison, Hasheem Thabeet and DeAndre Liggins. No way has that fivesome shared the court this season. They stayed together for 1:55, before Ibaka replaced Thabeet, and were outscored 5-0. Durant played 43:42 – he sat the first 4:18 of the second quarter. And it went OK, after Brooks started replenishing the lineup. The Thunder held serve, 9-9, with Durant on the bench, thanks to Martin’s seven points.
* With Ibaka and that lineup, the Thunder produced its most beautiful possession of the game. Martin had a shot from the corner but passed to Fisher instead. Fisher could have launched but passed to Liggins instead. Liggins could have shot but got it inside to Ibaka, who missed a short jumper. But Collison was wide open underneath for an easy putback.
* Martin missed his first three shots and you thought, uh-oh, here we go again. But then Martin made two straight – a running bank shot with Pondexter all over him, then a twisting drive that went in and drew a foul from Pondexter. Martin was 6-of-9 the rest of the way.
* Strange stat: The Thunder missed its first 11 go-ahead shots. Until Durant’s foul shots with 4:43 left in the second quarter, the Thunder had 11 shots that would have produced a lead. And missed them all.
* Durant’s only second-quarter points came on four foul shots, two trips to the line courtesy not so much of Austin Daye’s fouls, but of the rip move. What a terrible rule. They’ve got to get rid of that.
* Memphis was picking on Martin in the second half. Whoever Martin was guarded, the Grizzlies were getting the ball to. Keep an eye on that the rest of the series.
* The Thunder’s small lineup will get some more action, after the success in Game 1. Playing small, the Thunder climbed back from a 70-58 deficit and was within 84-79 when Brooks returned to the traditional lineup.
The small lineup’s impact would have been even more pronounced had not Pondexter nailed that well-contested, 35-foot runner at the third-quarter buzzer that gave the Grizzlies a 73-64 lead.
* Interesting reaction from Hollins. He said the Grizzlies might have been better off by not going big at 5:45. Not until then did Hollins try to play both Gasol and Randolph against the Thunder’s small lineup, though Brooks immediately went big himself. Hollins said Memphis lost some offensive flow when Gasol and Randolph played together.
If Hollins wants to split those guys up, it will be just fine with the Thunder.
* Perkins played a solid game – and not just defensively. He had seven rebounds and mostly kept Gasol off the offensive boards. Perk also had three assists. But that late turnover was a killer, when Perkins muffed a Durant inbounds pass with 1:08 left and Memphis up 90-87.
Blame that one on Brooks. There was no reason not to have Collison in for Perkins at that point. There was a good chance the clock was going to stop after every possession, so there was plenty of opportunity to make situational substitutions.
* Brooks said the keys to the game, other than great plays at the end, were rebounding and turnovers. The Thunder allowed just 10 offensive rebounds and only four second-chance points. Memphis always is available to pound you on the boards, if the opportunity is available.
Also, OKC had just 10 turnovers. Here are its turnovers since Westbrook was ruled out: 11, 22, 8, 10. Maybe that’s the one thing that’s better without Westbrook. Taking care of the ball.
“Well it was nice to get the first win,” Brooks said. “I thought our guys did a lot of good things out there, only giving up seven offensive rebounds, and only turning the ball over 10 times. Those were two of our important keys of the game, and we did it at a high level. Everybody, all of our bigs, they came in there and battled. Everybody did a good job defensively, we locked in. Offensively we had some good moments and we had some so-so moments. Those are things that we can correct and hopefully going into the next game we will.”
* Here are Memphis’ final six possessions: Ibaka blocks a Randolph close-in shot, Gasol makes a short jump hook on the baseline, Prince misses a drive, Fisher steals from Conley, Sefolosha makes the deflection that leads to a turnover and finally Pondexter’s three foul shots.
“That’s what we pride ourselves in is defensive toughness,” Brooks said. “When both teams are being serious like this, you have to earn every inch of the court. I thought that was an important aspect of our fourth-quarter defense. We weren’t allowing easy catches or easy dribbles. We weren’t allowing easy shots and we were getting rebounds. Serge did not have a good shooting game, but he fought and gave us everything he had on defense. He’s not going to go 1 for 10 (very often). He’s one of our best if not one of the best in the league at making shots from 16 and 17 feet. But I thought the fourth quarter, the last two minutes, was outstanding defense.”