The Thunder is one loss away from season’s end. Memphis beat the Thunder 103-97 in overtime Monday night to take total command of the Western Conference semifinal series. Here’s what I saw and heard:
* Memphis’ defensive plan on Kevin Durant clearly is working. It seems to come down to this.
1. Use Tayshaun Prince on Durant for most of the first three quarters, with occasional help from Quincy Pondexter and only sporadic help from Tony Allen. Then in the fourth quarter, unleash Allen on Durant.
The tactic was derailed momentarily when Allen got his fourth foul early in the fourth quarter, but he was back soon enough. And Durant’s night got worse.
Durant made just two of 13 shots after the third quarter. Durant nailed a 13-footer midway through the fourth quarter to give OKC an 87-86 lead, then his driving finger-roll tied the game at 94 with six seconds left. But otherwise, Durant, obviously weary and frustration growing, was unproductive.
2. Don’t let Durant get to the basket. This is an amazing statistic. Durant took 27 shots, and only four came closer than 12 feet. His only make from inside that distance was the game-tying drive at the end of regulation. And one of Durant’s misses from close in was in the final seconds, on the Thunder’s final possession of a lost game.
Durant is not getting easy shots. That’s testament to the Memphis defense. Five of Durant’s first seven baskets came on 3-pointers. The 3-pointer is becoming his easiest shot.
* Durant did not get many calls in Game 4. When he pulled the rip move on Prince with 1:48 left in regulation, Durant went to the foul line for the first time all game, other than for a defensive three-second technical in the first half.
“We didn’t get to the free-throw line,” Scotty Brooks said. “KD, basically two free throws. He’s an aggressive player. I have to do a better job of putting him in a better position where he gets to the paint and draws some fouls and gets to the free-throw line. When both teams compete defensively, you need every point you can get, and sometimes those are the free throws that we usually get that we didn’t get.”
The Thunder can’t beat the Grizzlies with Durant getting fewer foul shots than Thabo Sefolosha (four).
* Durant was asked the eternal question about his fatigue. Was he tired? I liked his answer.
“It’s midnight, and my bedtime is usually around 12 o’clock, so I’m a little sleepy,” Durant said. “But other than that, I’m good.”
* There was much to like in this game. Starting with Serge Ibaka. His numbers didn’t end up great: 6-of-13 shooting, 17 points, 14 rebounds, three blocked shots. Well, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots are great. But Ibaka was aggressive and confident.
The second half and overtime didn’t go great for Ibaka – he was 1-of-5 shooting with four points and four rebounds. But that seemed to be more a breakdown of the Thunder offense than Ibaka not playing the way he’s capable.
“Serge did a great job,” Brooks said. “He’s making shots. That’s what he’s done all year. It’s unfortunate he’s had a couple of bad games. He still competed. He still did a lot of things to make them miss. Sometimes, when you don’t make your shots, you kind of take it out on the defensive end. He’s never done that. He’s still competed. I’m glad that he got rewarded.
* Kevin Martin was good, too. He made six of 12 shots and scored 18 points. Martin’s defense was not good – it rarely has been in the playoffs — but he grabbed five rebounds.
And of course, the biggest head-scratcher of the game was Scotty Brooks sitting Martin from the 6:33 mark of the fourth quarter to the 2:10 mark of overtime. Foreman Scotty went with Derek Fisher instead.
Fisher has been invaluable in the playoffs, but he was awful Monday night. In 26 minutes, Fisher made one of five shots. Worse, his shots weren’t close.
Fisher didn’t even shoot until late third quarter, when he air-balled a 3-pointer with the Thunder up 72-70. Then he air-balled a deep 2-pointer with the score 74-74. Fisher finally hit the rim on a 3-pointer that bounced off at the end of the third quarter. And the Thunder’s first possession of overtime ended with a Fisher 3-point shot that was way off.
Of course, Fish’s worst play was the inbounds pass that Tony Allen stole with 20 seconds left and the Thunder trailing 100-97.
Fisher did play some defense. He helped Thabo on Mike Conley. Seemed like the Grizzlies’ point guard made 20 big shots, but he actually made just seven of 21 shots.
* The Thunder didn’t play for the win at the end of regulation. Down two, Durant drove instead of looking for a 3-point. Good play, I’d say.
“I thought it was the right play to attack the basket; he drove hard,” Brooks said. “I thought he did a good job of getting in front of Tony Allen. Tony Allen’s been aggressive all night. It was a great play that he makes a thousand times.”
Durant said he saw the lane “wide open, and I just wanted to get as close as I could.”
* With 4:10 left in the second quarter, the Thunder led 46-29. At that point in the game, the Thunder shooting percentage was .567. The Memphis shooting percentage was .324.
The rest of the game, the Thunder made just 17 of 49 shots. The Grizzlies made 24 of 52.
That’s how a team that led in shooting by 24 percentage points ended up with only a 43.0-40.4 percent advantage.
“They came out firing,” said Memphis coach Lionel Hollins. “The second half, we came out and we got after them. We kept scratching and clawing. We found some offense.”
I’ll say. The Griz scored 47 points on 28 possessions, from that 4:10 mark in the second quarter until late third quarter.
* The Thunder did a reasonable job on Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Gasol was 8-of-18 shooting, with 11 rebounds and 23 points. Randolph was 8-of-17, with 12 rebounds and 23 points.
The Thunder has more solid performances from its small lineup. But that lineup clearly works better when Memphis has Darrell Arthur on the court. When both Gasol and Randolph go against the OKC’s small ball, it puts the Thunder in a precarious situation. However, give Durant and the Thunder credit. It held up well.
The Thunder played 7:47 with only big man on the court against both Gasol and Randolph. Memphis outscored OKC just 14-12 during that stretch. And the Grizzlies got just three offensive rebounds during those stretches, which is about what Memphis did when its size advantage was less.
Gasol was just 1-of-3 shooting when guarded by Durant. Alas, the one make was huge – a 15-footer that made it 100-97 with 22.8 seconds left in the game.
* That’s the thing. As disastrous as the final few minutes of regulation and overtime were, the Thunder had a chance to win.
Durant had a jumper with 47 seconds left that would have given OKC a one-point lead. Durant liked it; he thought it was going in. Not until Fisher’s errant inbounds pass with 20 seconds left was the Thunder’s goose cooked.
“We held them off for awhile,” Martin said. “We just have to close the game sometimes.
* Brooks’ plan to switch Kendrick Perkins and Ibaka – Perk guard Randolph, Ibaka guard Gasol – has to be labeled a success. Its intended purpose worked. Ibaka seemed much more free on offense.
Of course, guarding Gasol is no picnic. But Randolph banging in the low post can take it out of a guy.
With Perkins on the court, Gasol was 2-of-7, mostly guarded by Ibaka, while Randolph was 5-of-10, mostly guarded by Perkins. Truth is, the offensive rebounding hurt more than Memphis’ halfcourt offense.
Perkins’ block of Randolph’s jumper at the regulation buzzer was excellent defense. But the Thunder is proving that it can use Perk and Ibaka interchangeably, and Nick Collison, too, against the Memphis big men and be OK.
“They tried to take away Zach a lot in the last game,” Hollins said. “They tried again tonight, but we opened the court a little bit more as the game wore on.”
* Man, getting Reggie Jackson more shots would be a good thing. He was 6-of-8 shooting, and one of the misses was a long 3-pointer forced by the impending expiration of the shot clock.
Jackson’s defense was not good – Conley torched him on occasion – but his offense is getting better and better.
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