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Nuggets from my notebook from Game 3 at Memphis

by Darnell Mayberry Modified: April 25, 2014 at 10:50 am •  Published: April 25, 2014

So much for the Thunder playing with more urgency…

  • The Thunder believes there were plenty of positives in tonight’s game. Believes because it has been here before, against these same Grizzlies, this sudden 2-1 series hole isn’t a serious threat.
  • “We’ve been down 1-2 a few times,” Scott Brooks said. “We just have to battle back.”‘
  • The problem is OKC hasn’t battled back well from this position. The Thunder has faced a 2-1 series deficit four times. Only once has the Thunder climbed out of it and gone on to win the series. If you think that stopped the Thunder from sounding overconfident, think again.
  • Kevin Durant: “We know how to handle it. We have been down 0-2 before. We have been down 2-1 before against this team. We have been in that position before. I think that experience is going to help us out. We just got to be better next game. We just have to be better. We know we are down 2-1 and we don’t want to go into a bigger hole than that. We have to come out and play with a little bit more sense of urgency and hopefully our shots go down. We just have to believe in each other and stick together.”
  • There’s that phrase again: “sense of urgency.” Wasn’t the Thunder supposed to display that in Game 3 after it spent the two days that followed the Game 2 loss talking about doing just that? Didn’t happen Thursday. Will it happen Saturday?
  • Know the difference between this Thunder team and those that dug itself out of that 2-1 hole against Memphis in 2011 and 2-0 hole against San Antonio in 2012? James Harden. I’m the last person that you’ll catch dwelling on that departure, but in this case it’s an unavoidable reality. He was a game-changer that neither the Spurs nor Grizzlies had an answer for. Beyond Durant and Russell Westbrook, who is that guy now? Through three games, he doesn’t appear to be on the roster. That’s one of many reasons using those series wins might be a little irrational.
  • The Thunder’s first-half scoring by game in this series: 56, 43, 36.
  • Thursday’s first half was horrible. Brooks said he was pleased with the effort in the first quarter, and it was indeed solid in spurts. But when he pointed to his team’s misses (7-for-20 shooting), I thought it was a convenient cover-up for a quarter also characterized by lapses, questionable decisions, sloppiness (five turnovers) and defensive breakdowns.
  • The second quarter was even worse than the first. The Thunder was lucky to be down only eight going into halftime.
  • I had so many questions in the first half. The following list should illustrate how confusing the first half of ball was by OKC.
    1. Why didn’t Westbrook move over to Mike Conley after Thabo Sefolosha picked up his second foul with 5:37 left in the first quarter? Why is he, as arguably the league’s most athletic point guard, still not taking the challenge of shutting down the opposing player at his position? Why did Sefolosha have to take that assignment from the start anyway after what Conley did to Westbrook in Game 2? Where’s the pride defensively? But why risk Reggie Jackson getting torched instead of just sliding over and sending a message?
    2. Why did Caron Butler get (by my count) only two touches in the first quarter despite being guarded by Zach Randolph for more than three minutes in the Thunder’s small-ball lineup? Why did one of those have to come on an offensive rebound and kickout?
    3. Why did Serge Ibaka get taken out of the game so early?
    4. Why would Brooks start the second quarter with both Westbrook and Durant on the bench after the Thunder had just played so poorly on offense in the first frame?
    5. Why was Durant turning the ball over so much?
    6. Why couldn’t the Thunder defend without fouling?
    7. Why didn’t OKC attack Marc Gasol when he started the second quarter with two fouls? Why didn’t OKC go at him and try to tag him with his third? Why didn’t the Thunder put pressure on him and take him out of the game? Why did the Thunder instead allow him to play all but the final 47 seconds of the second period?
    8. Why did Westbrook have more rebounds at halftime (six) than Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison combined (five)?
    9. Why was Durant not posting up?
    10. Why did Westbrook have zero assists at halftime?
    11. How could the Thunder get outscored by two over the first 7 1/2 minutes of the second despite Conley being on the bench?
  • Another first-half observation, this one from our man Berry Tramel. The Grizzlies got so cocky that they actually had the nerve to play Tony Allen while Durant was out of the game to start the second and sit him when Durant returned with 8:26 remaining in the half.
  • Allen played just 11 minutes in the first half. Durant played 20.
  • But Allen was again a huge contributor. He generated hustle and garbage points in addition to continuing to be disruptive on defense. In his first nine minutes, Allen scored 10 points, which at that point led all scorers. He finished with 16.
  • The Thunder’s reserves finished with nine points. So Tony Allen outscored the Thunder’s entire bench by seven points.
  • Memphis won the battle of the bench scoring, 34-9. Beno Udrih added 12 points in 14 minutes, giving him 26 points in 28 minutes over the last two games.
  • In the last two games, the Grizzlies’ bench has outscored the Thunder’s, 67-23. Consider that the most shocking thing in this series.
  • Jackson: 4 points, 2-for-9 shooting.
  • Butler: 0 points, 0-for-5 shooting.
  • In these first three games, Jackson has scored 15 points on 3-for-19 shooting. He had a phenomenal floor game in Game 1, grabbing eight rebounds, dishing four assists, blocking one shot and not turning it over. But since then, he’s been non-existent. Worse, he’s been outplayed by Udrih, which nobody saw coming when this series started.
  • I said it during the regular season and I think we witnessed it tonight. If Butler’s not making shots, I’m really not sure why he’s on the floor, especially for 22 minutes like he was tonight.
  • The Grizzlies winning the battle of the benches is one of a handful of things that we didn’t expect coming into this series. Three other things I didn’t envision: 1) the Thunder out-rebounding the Grizzlies in  each of the first three games. OKC’s rebounding edge was narrow in Games 2 and 3, only three total, but it was 10 in Game 1 when Memphis missed a bunch of shots; 2) the Thunder completely neutralizing Randolph and Gasol. Perk, Ibaka and Collison have played fantastic down low, hounding those two trees into rough shooting nights all series long. Gasol has scored 46 points on 48 shots. He’s shooting 41.6 percent. Randolph is averaging 20.6 points but has scored 62 points on 61 shots. He’s shooting 36 percent. Yet the work of the Thunder’s bigs is being wasted because the Thunder’s perimeter defenders are letting Grizzlies role players pick them apart; 3) Memphis looking like the more experienced team down the stretch. Though they certainly made things interesting, the Grizzlies have closed two straight overtime games by being the team that executes with poise and precision in late-game situations. Yes, the Grizzlies blew a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead and turned in some boneheaded plays while doing it tonight. But when things got tight, Memphis maintained its cool. The Thunder, on the other hand, was the team that appeared to panic. I picked the Thunder to win this series in five largely because I thought the Thunder was beyond those days. Clearly I overrated OKC’s maturity. This is a team that still lacks discipline and still has a lot of growing up to do before it will be ready to hoist its first Larry O’Brien trophy.
  • That was my biggest takeaway from tonight’s game, the Thunder’s lack of discipline. It might not have been the story of the game, or maybe it was. But it’s quickly becoming the story of the second half of the Thunder’s season. And if OKC isn’t careful, it’ll soon go down as the story of its early postseason exit. In Game 85, the Thunder is still jacking terrible shots offensively while looking confused, or, at times, downright clueless defensively. It makes you wonder, how can that be for a team that fields perhaps basketball’s most talented roster from top to bottom? It’ be one thing if this was just a one-game hiccup. But those of us that watch this team closely, those of us that analyze and over-analyze every substitution and sequence, understand that what we witnessed Thursday night from the Thunder wasn’t some sort of outlier. It was the culmination of long-established concerns coming home to roost. And by the time the Thunder walked out of Game 3, two games removed from an epic fail, there was a widespread uneasiness about whether the current regime can right the ship.
  • Durant and Westbrook played hero ball for most of the second half. And from what I can tell, nobody bothered to address it with either of them. The Thunder again just let its two stars keep squeezing off shots, some good, some bad, some unnecessary. But after they saw the shots weren’t falling in the first half, they pretty much set aside team ball and decided to do it themselves. They combined to take 36 of the Thunder’s 49 shots in the second half and overtime, a ridiculous percentage that only played right into the Grizzlies’ hands. They finished with five assists between them, or one less than Randolph’s game-high total.
  • “We always can be better,” Durant said. “We missed shots tonight. That’s how you get assists, if you make shots. I wouldn’t say we were just coming down shooting every time. We were aggressive. But we have to do a better job of getting guys easier shots. That falls on us two. Everything falls on us two. So we have to be better. We own up to it. We got to get guys involved.”
  • Don’t let the “we missed shots” argument fool you. Durant and Westbrook missed shots. Seventeen apiece. Those two were 19-for-53 from the field, or 35.8 percent. Everyone else on the Thunder roster combined to made 15 of 34 shots, or 44.1 percent. And remember, that includes Jackson and Butler’s joint 2-for-14 clip. So that indicates that the role players were ready. They just didn’t get enough chances.
  • Keep in mind, too, that Jackson is mostly creating his own shots. His misses aren’t like, say, Thabo’s misses on any given night. So Jackson’s nine misses tonight shouldn’t have discouraged Durant and Westbrook. That leaves Butler with a bad shooting night. Everybody else was on point and just never got the chance to prove it.
  • Durant and Westbrook’s most egregious mistakes came inside the final 40 seconds with the Thunder down 95-92. Westbrook rebounded a Randolph miss and darted the other way. He eventually settled for a contested 3-pointer. Sefolosha rebounded the ball and fired it back out to Durant, who immediately jacked another contested 3 with 22 seconds on the game clock. Westbrook had Ibaka all alone under the rim on his attempt. Durant pulled up from 29 feet on his attempt. Two shots in the final 30 seconds, both extremely unnecessary and both extremely bad decisions. What made both worse was that neither Westbrook nor Durant even considered taking anything other than a 3 in that situation. You could sense it and see it. Maybe they panicked. Maybe they both wanted to be the hero. Either way, it characterized the lack of poise the Thunder had on this night and the lack of discipline this team continues to get by without.
  • Thirty-eight seconds into the third period, after the Thunder went into halftime with four assists and just 1-for-10 from 3-point range, Westbrook jacked a one-on-four 3-pointer in transition with 20 seconds on the shot clock. And from what I could tell, nobody said anything to him.
  • With 8:42 remaining in the fourth quarter, and the Thunder trailing by 13, Durant dribbled into a similarly bad 3-point bomb. It took him only one additional second to squeeze it off. Think anybody called him on it?
  • Durant did it again with four minutes left in the fourth. And this one was even worse because the Thunder was down just seven and in the bonus. Why not attack and put pressure on the defense and try to get to the line if nothing else? Discipline.
  • Durant and Westbrook combined to take 21 more 3-pointers in this one. They made only four. Durant was 0-for-8. Here’s where I’d normally include a quote that offers some sort of explanation or, at the very least, reaction. But we’re at the point where it doesn’t even matter what they say about it. It’s too many regardless of the reason, and that’s all that matters.
  • For the series, Durant is 8-for-27 from 3, Westbrook is 5-for-25 from 3 and the Thunder is 18-for-74 from 3.
  • Another stat that came courtesy of Berry Tramel, Durant and Westbrook were 1-for-10 outside of 10 feet in the first half. They were 8-for-25 outside of 10 feet in the second half.
  • To me, the key to this series is real simple. It’s similar to how obvious it was two years ago that the Thunder should have gone small against Miami in the Finals. It doesn’t take a basketball savant to see what the Thunder must do against these Grizzlies. It boils down to one thing. Ball movement. If the Thunder moves the ball, it will climb out of this hole and move on. If OKC doesn’t, things will continue to be dicey. Basic ball movement will force the Grizzlies to guard everyone rather than wait for Durant and Westbrook to go one-on-one against a defense that’s focused squarely on them. You can’t beat the Grizzlies with one guy. We saw that last year. And the Thunder is not beating the Grizzlies with its two guys chucking 3-pointers. You’ve got to attack. You’ve got to put pressure on them by making them work. You’ve got to play a team game that throws their team defense out of sync. The Thunder has got to defend better, no doubt. But all OKC is doing right now is multiplying the defensive problem by running poor offense. Offense can impact defense just like defense can impact offense. Fix the halfcourt offense and suddenly everyone on the Thunder is more confident and engaged at the other end. Fix the halfcourt offense, and suddenly the Grizzlies have to score more often against a set defense.
  • In their wins this season, Memphis allowed just 19 assists per game. In their losses, the Grizzlies yielded 21.4 on average. After Game 3, the Thunder is averaging 18.6 assists in this series. The ball’s got to move.
  • The Thunder did a great job moving the ball out of timeouts a couple of times tonight. It resulted in the best offense and the most quality shots of the night.
  • Go back and watch the start of the Thunder’s 17-0 run. You’ll see the effect great ball movement has. Sefolosha got fouled shooting a 3 after a pinpoint pass, Perk got a layup after a great find and feed and Ibaka got a layup off another great dish. In less than 80 seconds, the Thunder had trimmed a 17-point deficit to 10 all because the ball started moving.
  • Regardless of the outcome or anything else that happened on the night, the defense the Thunder played during that 17-0 run was impressive. OKC held Memphis to 0-for-8 shooting and hounded the Grizzlies into five turnovers during that stretch.
  • Durant gave us a scare late in the fourth quarter when he twisted his left ankle while closing out on Courtney Lee. But he got up, walked it off and stayed in the game.
  • A lot of people were calling for Brooks to dust off Jeremy Lamb. With defense being a huge issue in this series, particularly on the perimeter for the Thunder, Brooks might feel inserting Lamb could lead to more slippage. In fact, I’m almost sure that’s what’s keeping Brooks from playing him. For as bad as the perimeter defense looked tonight and Monday, there’s a chance it could get worse with Lamb. You might not agree. But that’s an easy opinion to have while he’s on the bench. I’ve raved about Lamb’s defensive effort all season. But I believe the last time we saw Lamb in meaningful minutes he was getting lit up in the post by P.J. Tucker, no? Some say the Grizzlies always have someone the Thunder can hide Lamb on. I disagree. Allen? He’s torching better defenders and beating them with hustle. Udrih? Same. Tayshaun Prince? Maybe. But what happens when Prince takes Lamb in the post and uses that sneaky strength against the smaller Lamb? It could get ugly. These are all things Brooks must take into account. That’s not to say Brooks won’t or shouldn’t try Lamb. I think he should. I’m just attempting to explain why he might not have tonight.
  • Others were calling for Steven Adams. I didn’t see the point of that. Perk played a phenomenal game.
  • I saw a few comments about how none of the pieces acquired in the Harden trade played tonight. Some apparently wanted to use it as evidence that the Harden trade wasn’t good for the Thunder. Um, OK.
  • Westbrook’s younger brother was among the many calling for Brooks’ job on Twitter. Whenever a close family member does something like that, the natural thing is to wonder whether the player of that relative feels the same way. Westbrook’s brother quickly deleted the tweet.
  • At halftime, Durant and Westbrook had 21 points on 7-for-18 shooting. Udrih and Allen had 18 points on 8-for-9 shooting. Can’t put this all on coaching.
  • Huge swing late in the third when KD missed a jumper and then a point-blank putback attempt. Conley then drilled a 3 at the other end with Collison sagging off him. Five-point swing that bumped the Grizzlies’ lead to 13 instead of trimming it to eight.
  • Bob Barry Jr. made a good point after the game. He said the third quarter of Game 1 was the turning point of this series. Remember, that’s when the Grizzlies outscored the Thunder, 31-13, and clawed back from a 25-point second quarter deficit. Memphis cut it to two in the fourth quarter before running out of gas and eventually losing by 14. But that gave the Grizzlies confidence, hope and something they could build on. Save a few riveting rallies and a pair of four-point plays by the Thunder, this series hasn’t been the same since.
  • Up next: Game 4 on Saturday.
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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