Kevin Durant found the freedom he was missing a year ago while Russell Westbrook was missing, and the Thunder found it much less difficult to tangle with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Durant scored a game-high 33 points with eight rebounds and seven assists to lead Oklahoma City to a wire-to-wire 100-86 win over the Grizzlies in Game 1 on Saturday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“It felt good,” Durant said of having Westbrook back in the postseason. “He’s one of the top five players in the league. You’ve got to be conscious of him every time he’s out on the court. And tonight he did it all for us. He was rebounding the basketball extremely well, he got everybody the ball and scored the ball at a high rate. He makes it a lot easier for everybody, not just myself. Tonight, he wreaked havoc on both ends of the
The Thunder led by as many as 25 points and held off a late rally to maintain home-court advantage in this best-of-seven series.
Westbrook, who missed last year’s semifinal series with Memphis after tearing his meniscus in the opening round, reminded the Grizzlies how much tougher the Thunder is to defend with him on the floor. Westbrook scored 23 points in 33 minutes. He added five assists and, with his mere presence, he made Memphis back out of the double and triple teams the Grizzlies threw at Durant throughout last year’s five-game series.
In the end, the return of the Thunder’s All-Star duo was too much for the Grizzlies to overcome on a night in which the Thunder’s defense blanketed Memphis’ scoring weapons.
Game 2 is Monday night in Oklahoma
Zach Randolph scored a team-high 21 points but needed 21 shots to get there for Memphis. Grizzlies center Marc Gasol had 16 points but took 19 shots. Mike Conley added 16 points on 6-for-16 shooting with a game-high 11 assists.
Memphis shot just 36.3 percent.
The Thunder came out like a team seeking revenge against the squad that ousted it in last year’s semifinals. OKC scored the first eight points, jumped to a 14-2 advantage and eventually built a 14-point lead in the opening frame.
Westbrook led the way, making his first four shots and scoring 12 points with four rebounds and two assists in the frame. But behind its rotation of big men, the Thunder’s defense shut down Memphis’ attack. Oklahoma City held the Grizzlies to 5-for-19 shooting (17.2 percent) in the frame and gave Randolph and Gasol fits. The Grizzlies’ inside tandem combined to score nine points on 3-for-16 shooting.
Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Steven Adams all played a role, taking turns standing up and turning away the Grizzlies’ physical two-pronged, low-post attack. That quartet, with the aid of Westbrook’s team-high 10 rebounds, also controlled the glass and limited Memphis to one shot. The Thunder out-rebounded the Grizzlies 51-41. Memphis finished with just nine second-chance points. The Grizzlies generated only one second-chance point in the first half.
The Thunder turned rebounding into transition opportunities, finishing the game with 32 fast break points.
The Thunder’s reserves pushed OKC’s lead to 20 points in the second quarter while Durant and Westbrook were on the bench. They confirmed in that stretch an advantage the Thunder was believed to have in the respective second units. Reggie Jackson scored or assisted on nine of Thunder points during the 11-4 run.
But things quickly unraveled after the break.
The Grizzlies outscored the Thunder 31-13 in the third quarter and held OKC to 3-for-16 shooting in the period.
Memphis started the third quarter on a 17-4 run, trimming a 22-point halftime deficit to nine by taking advantage of Thunder turnovers and breakdowns defensively. The Grizzles scored 10 points in the paint during that five-minute spurt. Seven points came off four OKC giveaways.
The Grizzlies’ comeback culminated with them coming as close as two points when Mike Miller rained in a 3-pointer with 8:46 left to play. The Thunder answered with a 13-1 run. Seven of those points came at the free throw line. Durant found Serge Ibaka under the basket for a dunk and three-point play, and Durant later splashed in a 3-pointer off a feed from Derek Fisher.
Grizzlies guard Beno Udrih snapped his team’s scoring drought with a jumper that pulled Memphis within 87-75. Prior to that basket, the Grizzlies had missed five straight shots and turned it over twice.
Memphis never got closer than 10 points the rest of the way.