When Kendrick Perkins delivered a shot to Tony Allen 14 seconds in, the tone had been set. It was an offensive foul on Perkins, but it sent a message that the Thunder wasn't about to roll over again in Game 2.
What ensued over the next 47 minutes, 46 seconds was the most physical and — at times testy — game the Thunder has seen in these playoffs. But by standing up and shoving back, the Thunder evened this series with a 111-102 victory over Memphis before hitting the road for Games 3 and 4.
In the process, the Thunder might have just found the key to keeping this series competitive.
“I think you have to play with emotion,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “I thought last game we were a little flat in that area and that was disappointing. Our energy was in the wrong places. But this is what playoff basketball is about; being tough, being emotional, playing with force. And we did that.”
From the start, the Thunder's renewed fire and focus rocked the Grizzlies. Oklahoma City jumped to a 28-17 lead only after battling Memphis' big man combo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol much tougher in the paint. After a combined 54-point, 23-rebound effort in Game 1, Randolph and Gasol were held to a combined 28 points on just 5-for-22 shooting with 19 rebounds.
Throughout the game, Perkins and Randolph went toe-to-toe, even providing us with the second forehead-to-forehead stare down this postseason. Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed took turns guarding Randolph and Gasol and used more force to prevent them from easy looks at the basket and the same number of second-chance opportunities that plagued the home team on Sunday.
“We wanted to come out and match their intensity and get the first hit, and we did a great job throughout all four quarters of making sure we had contact,” Harden said.
If the starters set the tone, the bench kept it right where it needed to be.
Harden bounced back from a passive performance in Game 1 to score 21 points off the bench Tuesday. He made 11 of 11 free throws and added five assists, three rebounds and three steals in 30 minutes. Reserve point guard Eric Maynor added 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting to help the Thunder's bench dominate Memphis.
Postgame Thoughts: What did you think?