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Nuggets from my notebook from Friday's win over Memphis

by Darnell Mayberry Published: March 1, 2014
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You are now free to back away from the panic button…

  • Are you a glass half full or half empty type of person? If you’re the half full kind, you’re going to look at the first half of this game, be encouraged by the Thunder’s defensive dominance and accept that there’s still room for improvement while being happy about the win. But if you’re a glass half empty type, then you’re probably at a bar somewhere right now bi***ing to your buddy about how bad this team looked in the final 24 minutes, particularly the final 12.
  • I’m a realist. And after the way the Thunder played in its previous three outings, all that mattered in my mind was the defense showing back up after a two-week layoff. Consistency would have been ideal, but the effort was the most important thing. The Thunder could have played with passion and pride for 48 minutes and lost again and I wouldn’t have cared. It’s February. This was a game in which OKC had to get back to the basics of playing both ends of the floor. And tonight, for the most part, the Thunder did that.
  • It took just 17 seconds for the Thunder to set the tone and show that it was again serious about getting stops. Russell Westbrook picked Mike Conley 10 seconds into the game. Seven seconds after that, Kevin Durant stuffed Zach Randolph on a baseline dunk attempt. You knew after that sequence that the Thunder had come to play.
  • The rest of the opening period was filled with similar stops. Thabo Sefolosha poked away a pass attempt from Marc Gasol to Courtney Lee. Reggie Jackson jumped the passing lane and stole a swing pass from Conley. Steven Adams blocked a layup by Randolph. Serge Ibaka blocked a layup by Conley.
  • In the first 12 minutes, the Thunder registered four steals and four blocks. With swarming defense and sharp closeouts, OKC forced a 24-second violation and hounded the Grizzlies into four turnovers in the first 6 1/2 minutes. Memphis entered the game ranked third in turnovers at just 12.6 per game.
  • “Everybody was locked in,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
  • Durant: “I think these guys did a great job, everybody, yesterday in practice, today in shootaround, of just being focused. Coming in the locker room before the game, everybody was focused and that’s why we came out and played a good game.”
  • The Thunder held the Grizzlies to 42 first-half points, or the same amount Cleveland put up in the fourth quarter alone two nights earlier. Memphis made only 37.5 percent of its shots in the first 24 minutes, had nine turnovers and stared at a 15-point halftime deficit.
  • Memphis coach Dave Joerger: “They were very focused and locked in. They played at a very high level, I thought, tonight and as well as I’ve seen them play against us in a long time.”
  • I figured this was coming. I told our man Berry Tramel after the Cavs game that I thought Memphis was about to run into a buzzsaw. You could say the Grizzlies kind of did. The Thunder doesn’t like losing one game. The players are pissed when they lose two straight. So coming into tonight on a three-game skid and knowing full well that awful defense, something controllable, was the reason and they don’t really like the Grizzlies anyway, it just seemed that the Thunder would play with playoff-like intensity to get back on the winning track. And that’s what happened.
  • Another part of the Thunder’s defensive success was playing without fouling and limiting the Grizzlies to one shot. OKC shot 12 more free throws and out-rebounded Memphis, 39-33, including a 15-9 edge on the offensive end.
  • Conley had six points on 1-for-10 shooting with nine assists and five turnovers. Rough game.
  • The one bad thing about the Thunder’s start was too many turnovers. OKC had six in the first quarter, leading to 10 Grizzlies points. But the Thunder cleaned that up and had just eight the rest of the game.
  • But about that second half. It was bad. Allowing 29 points in the third was sort of forgivable because the Thunder came out of halftime hot, too, and scored 30. But the 36 points OKC allowed in the fourth quarter were unacceptable. Worst of all, the Thunder watched the Grizzlies’ second team captain a comeback from 19 down and threaten to steal the win when they cut it to three inside the final three minutes.
  • Conley and Randolph didn’t play a second of the fourth quarter. Gasol played only the final two minutes, and many thought his return messed up the rhythm the Grizzlies rode to that spirited run. Instead, Nick Calathes, Kosta Koufos, Mike “Thunder Killer” Miller, Tony Allen and James Johnson led the charge. They hit shots, got stops, forced turnovers and played with confidence and poise the entire period.
  • Tayshaun Prince: “In the fourth quarter, our bench was unbelievable. We put them in a bad situation and they almost got us out of it. They put on a great display of moving the basketball and making plays.”
  • The Thunder relaxed. Once again, OKC entered the fourth with a big lead, 16 points the margin stood this time, and the Thunder eased up. The intensity that we saw in the opening seconds and opening half was long gone. It seemed the Thunder thought it would cruise to victory. But the Grizzlies’ bench had other ideas.
  • Memphis was 23-for-30 in the second half at one point. Only when the Grizzlies missed seven of their final 10 shots did their second-half percentage drop to a still-stunning 65 percent.
  • Crazy thing about Memphis’ rally was its missed opportunities. The Grizzlies had two point-blank chances to cut it to two with 3:17 remaining, but Calathes missed a fast break layup and Miller left an uncontested putback short. Durant then knocked down a jumper at the other end, completing the four-point swing and putting OKC back ahead by six with 2:58 left to play.
  • After Johnson knocked down a 3 and Jackson missed a jumper for the Thunder, the Grizzlies had another chance to cut it to two. Durant was called for a technical foul, but Miller stepped to the line and missed the free throw. The Grizzlies then came up empty on their possession, and Durant bumped the lead to five after burying another jumper.
  • But the play that did it was Calathes launching that 3 with 1:04 left to play. That pretty much sealed the Grizzlies’ fate. Can’t like that shot in that situation if you’re a Grizzlies fan.
  • “Thunder Killer” Miller scored all 19 of his points in the fourth quarter. The Thunder just can’t stop that dude. Not in Miami. Not in Memphis.
  • Conley on “Thunder Killer” Miller: “He’s obviously on another level. He’s already on another level than most people. He can really get it going, and when he does that we’re a tough team.”
  • Who would you rather have, Miller or Caron Butler? That’s tough, but I think I’d prefer Miller. That’s not a knock on Caron. That’s about how much I think this team could use another sharpshooter, and it’s also about how good Miller is.
  • Miller made one shot late where he had his back to the basket, turned, barely even saw the rim before letting it fly and knocking it down. That was a cold-blooded basket there.
  • What will Westbrook take away from the differing results by half? “We won,” he said. “We won. That’s what I’m going to take from it. We lost three in a row. We just won. So that’s what I’m going to take from it.”
  • Westbrook was again fantastic, stringing together his second straight stellar game to move another step toward silencing the silly questions of how he’ll return and whether he’ll ever be the same. He finished with 21 points on 7-for-12 shooting with six assists and three steals, while playing real solid defense for much of the night. He also played 29 minutes, 27 seconds, the second straight game that he’s exceeded the 26-minute restriction to which the team is limiting him.
  • Brooks: “We executed down the stretch in the last couple of minutes of the basketball game. We got good looks. I thought Russell managed that part of the game. Things were going a little sideways at that point. I thought he did a great job of settling us down, getting to some of our plays that we like to run. KD did a great job of setting screens and getting open, and Russell delivered.”
  • Durant dominated down the stretch. On both ends. In the final two minutes, with the Thunder nursing a tenuous three-point lead, Durant scored six points, making two of three shots with a rebound and some surprisingly solid defense on Gasol on the low block. Durant scored 30 of his game-high 37 points in the second half.
  • Durant: “I just told myself to be aggressive to score. That’s all I said to myself at half. I was frustrated with the shots I was taking. I felt that I wasn’t disciplined in my work, my fundamentals. So I just wanted to be aggressive to score. I think that’s what my team needed.”
  • As someone noted on Twitter, who would have thought the Thunder’s first win without Kendrick Perkins would have come against the Grizzlies?
  • And I can already hear the chatter now: “Why does this team need Perk?” That’s probably a question some Thunder heads are going to be asking after watching Adams, Hasheem Thabeet and Nick Collison hold their own against Randolph and Gasol. Those two combined for 30 points on 12-for-24 shooting with 13 rebounds and just one blocked shot. Randolph, who, again, did not play the fourth quarter, scored just 13 points on 5-for-14 shooting. Gasol was efficient but never really a problem.
  • Brooks: “I thought Steven and Hash were terrific. They were really active, protecting the paint, cleaning up some problems, blocking shots, getting rebounds, just being very active.”
  • Got to give a ton of credit to Thabeet. The big fella hasn’t played but eight games this season, the last one coming on Jan. 31 against Brooklyn. And those were mop-up minutes. He hasn’t seen meaningful minutes since November. But with Perk out, his number was called and he was ready. He had two points, four rebounds, a block and a steal, and his size and length in the paint and at the rim was a problem for the Grizzlies throughout his 17 minutes. He had a few more blocks that were waived off or called a foul, including one on Z-Bo that looked pretty clean. Just a great job by Thabeet tonight.
  • I was really interested in seeing Adams tonight, too. Probably more than anything. He’s the future, according to people like me in the media. And this was a great test to see if he was up to the challenge. He started on Randolph while Ibaka started on Gasol, and Adams used his length and strength to stay in front of Randolph and contest his shots as best he could. For a rookie who was thrown into the fire like that, I thought he did an excellent job.
  • Lot of bumps and bruises tonight. Sefolosha left the game early with a left calf strain. Jackson sat at his locker looking like he was about to fall into a coma after taking a shot to the face late. Both will be evaluated again Saturday. Butler can’t get here fast enough, though.
  • When Sefolosha had to go to the bench, Brooks went with Jackson and he had to cover Lee. I thought, “Uh oh. Remember what happened the last time Jackson was on Lee?” But this time, Jackson was pretty doggone good. He stayed with Lee and rarely let him get free. The one time Lee did blow by Jackson, it forced Adams to step over and pick up a foul. But other than that, Jackson did a much better job defensively early on.
  • Loved, loved, loved Ibaka’s game tonight. He was hitting shots, rebounding, grabbing loose balls, blocking shots and playing with great energy. He finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in 29 minutes.
  • Derek Fisher made two of his three 3s tonight. Our man Anthony Slater supplied the stat that said Fish hit multiple 3s in eight of the team’s 11 February games. On the month, Fish went 22-for-45 (48 percent) from deep.
  • I jokingly asked Brooks if we can back away from the panic button after this win. “You guys seem to want all of us to press that panic button,” he said. “That never even came into our mind. We weren’t happy the way we were playing. Tonight, we played better defensively but we still gave up a lot of points in that fourth quarter; even in the third quarter also.”
  • Durant on what the last week was like with a three-game losing streak: “I wasn’t at home crying my eyes out. I was definitely pissed. That’s the only word I can use. But I leave it at the gym and just try to get my mind off of it when I’m not there. But when we walk into that gym we get focused on what we need to do better. And I think these guys did a great job, everybody, (Thursday) in practice, (Friday) in shootaround, of just being focused. Coming in the locker room before the game, everybody was focused and that’s why we came out and played a good game.”
  • If you remember, the last time the Grizzlies were in town Joerger complained a bit to the game operations staff at the scorer’s table about the volume of the music on the PA system. Fortunately, someone asked him about those complaint before the game tonight. Here’s what he said: “We got on the plane last time and every one of our people were just, like, their ears were ringing. You don’t get that in other places. The music’s awfully loud. It just is what it is. We’re all people. We all have a work environment. If I cannot communicate yelling at the top of my lungs from you to me away, no matter where it is, it’s too loud, in my opinion. If the crowd is loud, that’s what you love, no matter if it’s home or away. If the crowd is into it, that’s something different. Completely different.”
  • My thoughts on the arena noise are on record. It’s much too loud, much too constant and much too stale. Some of that, like the need for it to be so scripted, I get. But my solution is simple. Turn it down, scale it back and let one of the best home crowds in basketball create the noise. Don’t manufacture it.
  • Up next: Charlotte on Sunday.
by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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