Here are five observations from the Thunder’s 100-86 win over the Grizzlies in Game 1 on Saturday night:
1. Strange path to impressive win – The Thunder entered as seven-point favorites, which seemed a bit high. Then they beat a rugged Grizzlies team by 14 points. By any metric, that’s a solid performance. Especially considering W’s are the only thing that matter this time of year. Three more victories for the series, 15 for the title. But Saturday’s game had a weird feel to it. OKC jumped out to a 22-point halftime lead that felt more like 42. One of the best 24-minute stretches we’ve seen this team ever play. Then the Thunder blew that cushion quicker than they built it, getting outscored 31-13 in a brutal third quarter that was about as lethargic we’ve ever seen them. OKC had only three made field goals and five turnovers in 12 minutes. But finally, they recaptured that momentum and sprinted toward the finish line with a clinching 13-1 run. End result, great. How they got there, strange.
2. The other guys - Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook put up their typically gaudy numbers — a combined 56 points, 18 rebounds and 12 assists — but I thought Serge Ibaka and Caron Butler provided the difference. Ibaka is just a maniac weak-side shot-blocker, flying in from impossible angles to make statement blocks. Three of his four swats on Saturday (seen below) would qualify as ‘one of the greatest blocks of my career’ for most centers. For Serge, those are just every game occurrences. What a defensive weapon. And what a deterrent for the Grizzlies, who went 11-of-30 in the paint in the first half and, at one point, had made only seven shots and had already had seven shots blocked.
And then Butler was just his steady self. He walks around with that cool, confident air about him. And you can tell, because of his recent experiences, he truly appreciates the crowd support and the fact that he’s on a contender. I wrote about Butler’s night for Sunday’s paper (which you can read here). But it was basically what he’s been for the past couple months. Nine big points, five needed rebounds, a steal, a three and a dunk that surprised us all. He was a game-high +18 in the plus/minus category. And that’s not a misleading stat.
From that dunk
3. Memphis’ shrinking depth – The Grizzlies got back in it with an inspired third-quarter effort from their starters (plus Tony Allen, replacing the ill Tayshaun Prince). And because they were playing so well, Dave Joerger made an interesting but understandable move. He didn’t make a substitution until there was 9:52 left in the fourth quarter, and that only came because Zach Randolph picked up his fifth foul. Fourteen straight minutes with the same five-man group. Gutty effort, cutting that lead down to two at one point, but they ran out of gas. And in doing so, they may have shined a spotlight on the Grizzlies most glaring weakness. They don’t have much behind the core group. Tayshaun Prince has been bad and now he’s sick. Nick Calathes is average and now he’s suspended. Mike Miller is reliable, but is a specialist. The Grizzlies’ depth is eroding. Joerger seems to really only trust six guys, with James Johnson as a potential wild card. But he only got six minutes on Saturday. Beno Udrih got 15, the sixth-most on the team. Tells you all you need to know.
4. The Brooks plan - We’re only one game into the playoffs. But it’s never too early to start examining Scott Brooks’ rotational trends. Take a look at OKC’s minutes played on Saturday:
Kevin Durant – 43
Serge Ibaka – 34
Russell Westbrook – 33
Caron Butler – 31
Reggie Jackson – 24
Nick Collison – 19
Kendrick Perkins – 16
Steven Adams – 12
Derek Fisher – 12
Thabo Sefolosha – 11
Hasheem Thabeet – 4
A few thoughts:
-Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha started. They combined for 27 minutes. Caron Butler came off the bench. He played 31. If ever you needed an example of why the term ‘starter’ is overrated in basketball, there it is. Butler has firmly planted himself in that closing five and will likely get the fourth or fifth most minutes on the team this postseason (near Reggie Jackson, behind the three stars).
-I like Fisher only getting 12 minutes. Don’t like Thabo only getting 11.
-Perkins got four more minutes than Adams. Will be interesting to monitor that moving forward. Most fans — and I’m of the same opinion — would like to see Adams get a bulk of the center’s minutes. But it’s likely Perkins does. We’ll see.
-Only 33 minutes for Russell Westbrook, one day after Brooks said his restrictions were off. Seems kinda strange, particularly during that end of third quarter -> early fourth quarter stretch where he sat Westbrook a ton. But, surprise, Brooks and the Thunder brushed off any injury concerns for Westbrook postgame. He was seen going to the locker room at one point, but apparently it was to change jerseys after he got some Nick Collison blood on his original.
5. Highlight of the game - I could watch phantom cam footage all day:
-Here’s Darnell Mayberry’s game story, focusing on Durant’s newfound freedom against Memphis now that his superstar sidekick is back.
-Here’s Berry Tramel’s column, taking a more critical look at the victory that wasn’t as easy as it first appeared.
-Here’s Jenni Carlson’s column on Russell Westbrook’s night.
-My sidebar on Caron Butler’s momentum-changing dunk.
-Thunder report card
-To start the game, Kevin Durant missed an open 12-footer and Kendrick Perkins tapped it back in with some feathery touch. Exactly how we all expected this postseason run to begin.
-Steven Adams had three blocks in the first 96 seconds of his playoff career.
-Scott Brooks on the Butler dunk: “(It) probably surprised 18,203 fans, as well as the staff and our players.”
-The only thing uglier than Memphis’ start to the game (5-of-29 shooting) may have been Thabo Sefolosha’s new haircut. Not sure what the idea was behind that shaved strip in the middle of his head.
-Shoutout to the Thunder fan in an bunny costume, gold chain and Serge Ibaka jersey holding a wine glass. Now THAT’s the way to spend the night before Easter.
-When OKC went up 23-10 to start the game, forcing a second Memphis timeout, the ref had to blow his whistle twice before anyone heard it. Place was rocking from the outset.
-The Thunder avereaded 6.1 blocks per game, second most in the NBA. They had seven in the first 17 minutes.
-Mike Conley and Russell Westbrook wore basically the same (wildly outlandish and red) outfit (photo via Carson Cunningham):
-Pregame, from our photog Nate Billings: A Thunder fan in a KD fathead wearing a Slim Reaper shirt that reads: “Here lies Queen James”
-And we’ll end on that note. See you for Game 2.