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Berry Tramel: Memphis' toughness too much for the Thunder

by Berry Tramel Published: May 1, 2011

Rain swamped the Memorial Marathon. Cold struck the Arts Festival. The Grizzlies punched the Thunder in the gut.

Bad MayDay in Oklahoma City.

But the marathon finished. The arts festival was on its last day. The Thunder has to wrestle the Grizzlies at least three more times.

The Boomers had better toughen up.

That's what beat the Thunder 114-101 Sunday. Memphis toughness. The Grizzlies were tougher than OKC.

Tougher with the ball. Tougher on defense. Tougher at the rim.

“We didn't have any energy,” Kevin Durant said. “They played harder than us. They fought harder than us. It's a long series. We gotta come out with more fight the next game.”

Mandatory, I'd say, if the Thunder wants to avoid a four-game sweep.

“They were more physical than us, from bigs to small,” said Kendrick Perkins, words that pained the Thunder enforcer to say.

Memphis coach Lionel Hollins threw the Thunder a mental life-preserver, saying that while the Grizzlies came off a rock'em-sock'em series against the Spurs, the Thunder had more of a racehorse series with the Nuggets, so it might take OKC a game or two to adjust.

“As the series goes on, I'm sure they'll catch up,” Hollins said of Memphis' physical nature.

But toughness comes in many packages. Toughness isn't just brute force.

The Thunder has to be tougher with the ball. The turnover ratio was absurd; 18-8. That's 10 extra possessions for Memphis. And don't blame it all on Russell Westbrook's seven. Durant, who otherwise played wonderfully, had three turnovers in the first quarter.

Several times, this game looked like fifth-graders at recess. The Grizzlies would just grab the ball out of Thunder hands. And schoolyard bully Tony Allen was more docile than usual. What happens when he gets cranking for Memphis?

The Thunder defense was just awful. The Thunder actually scratched back and made this a game, 63-60 midway through the third quarter and even got the ball back.

But Allen stole a lazy Serge Ibaka pass, and the Grizzlies scored on eight of their next nine possessions. Lot of that was Zach Randolph, but the finale of that spree was a 3-pointer by Shane Battier, who caught the ball wide open in transition, didn't want to shoot, didn't want to shoot, then seemed to say, OK, if you insist.

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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