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Nuggets from my notebook from Tuesday's loss at Memphis

by Darnell Mayberry Modified: January 15, 2014 at 2:45 am •  Published: January 15, 2014

Both teams played hard. No, really. Scott Brooks actually said that. Twice…

  • Kevin Durant did what he said he felt he needed to do. We can debate from now until the Thunder takes that court again at Houston on Thursday at 8:30 whether it was the right decision. But if Serge Ibaka knocks down an open corner 3, nobody’s questioning Durant. Nobody’s complaining. Nobody’s calling for Scott Brooks‘ head.
  • Durant on his drive and dish to Ibaka inside the final 15 seconds: “It was just a read and react. Coach drew up a pick and roll for me, and I was able to split it. And I seen that guy come off of Serge and he was wide open. And I trust him 100 percent. The shot looked good. It just hit the side rim and rimmed out.”
  • More from Durant: “That’s a shot we need him to take. His confidence is going to be up the next time he shoots it. You see he made his shot right after that, too. Great shot, man. We got to live with the results.”
  • Brooks said he was OK with the play: “Absolutely. That’s one thing I love about KD. He makes the right play. He could have forced a shot, but that wasn’t the right play. Serge was wide open. He works on that every day, and he’s made that shot for us. Like KD said during the game, what I said during the game, ‘It’s a great look, Serge. If you get that shot again, be ready to step up and make it.’”
  • I looked it up. Ibaka entered the game shooting 38 percent on 3s from the left corner this season. He had made eight of 21. Pretty good. Probably the best on the team behind Perry Jones III (just a hunch, I didn’t look that up). But in that situation? That’s where things get a little questionable.
  • Would have been nice to have Thabo Sefolosha on the floor in that spot, for that shot. But, you know…
  • Dare I say Derek Fisher even???
  • Either way, I’m just not sure why you go with two bigs on the floor at that point.
  • Back to Ibaka’s miss. The funny thing about it is Durant has spent the past five days going on and on about how he needs to better help his teammates. Yet Ibaka’s miss was a microcosm of this team’s recent struggles and served simply as confirmation for what we already knew: Durant isn’t getting nearly enough help offensively. To that end, Durant finds himself stuck between a Sefolosha and a Kendrick Perkins. On one hand, he’s got to keep teammates involved, knowing that he needs to keep their confidence high because he’ll need them down the line. On the other, he’s got to decipher when to take over and downright dominate to make up for teammates who aren’t true offensive threats and aren’t making defenses pay for leaving them open. It’s a tough act.
  • Of course Ibaka hit a contested step-back wing 3 after missing a wide open corner 3. Of course he did.
  • Before Ibaka’s late 3, Reggie Jackson was the only other player not named Durant in double figure scoring for the Thunder. That’s become a well-established theme of late.
  • I’ve long said the Thunder needs a more structured system. Even with Russell Westbrook healthy. And I will continue to believe so until this team’s freelancing style wins a ring. We’ve seen it bog down before in the playoffs. So it isn’t like this stretch without Westbrook should be all that surprising. My stance has absolutely nothing to do with this stretch. This team has been overly reliant on two players since it planted roots in OKC. Works great in the regular season. Gets sketchy in the postseason.
  • Tonight was a prime example. Nobody outside of Durant is sure of what to do. Other than get it to Durant, of course. And then set a screen for him. There’s no rhythm. No flow. No sense of what to expect and when to expect it. Consequently, players are having a hard time stepping up and supplying necessary contributions.
  • No doubt all of that is on Brooks (save the missed open looks). He had an entire offseason to plan without Westbrook yet not much has changed.
  • But what we’re seeing now falls on Sam Presti. This roster, without Westbrook (and you could even argue with him) is flawed. It is void of capable shooters who can alleviate pressure from Durant and Westbrook. It was one of my biggest concerns coming into the season, and these first 38, again — even with Westbrook — have only confirmed what I thought to be true in the preseason. This team needs some shooters.
  • The Thunder went 5-for-21 from 3-point range tonight.
  • Since Westbrook went down, a 10-game stretch, the Thunder is shooting 32.1 percent on 3-pointers. That would rank second-to-last in the league, ahead of only Detroit at 31.2 percent.
  • OKC is now 5-5 since Westbrook’s latest surgery.
  • Brooks: “We had a lot of good open looks. We are going to have to step up and make some shots. I believe in all of our guys taking them. They are not shots that are forced. They are not shots that are out of their rhythm. We just have to continue to believe in them and keep passing to each other.”
  • Thought it was interesting that Brooks started Sefolosha on Mike Conley. Brooks didn’t even give Jackson a chance. Can’t say I blame Brooks. Jackson has struggled defensively since stepping in for Westbrook. And Sefolosha came with great intensity and effort from the start, really harassing Conley the length of the floor, making his decisions tough and throwing off his timing, which disrupted the Grizzlies offense.
  • Unfortunately for Jackson and the Thunder, recently acquired Grizzlies guard Courtney Lee, who Jackson started on, came out blazing. He had 14 points in the opening period, hitting 3s, duping Jackson on an up-and-under and scoring on an offensive rebound and putback when Jackson didn’t box out. That ignited the fire.
  • It was so bad Brooks had to bring Fish off the bench unusually early, with 5:05 left in the first quarter.
  • Lee then started giving Fish the business.
  • Just a rough first quarter in general for the Thunder. OKC trailed 18-7 early, and then fell behind by 12. Memphis manhandled the Thunder on the glass, grabbing eight offensive rebounds and turning them into nine second-chance points. Memphis’ work on the boards led to the Grizzlies attempting 12 more shots in the period. The Thunder had five turnovers, which led to an additional six Grizzlies points. And the Thunder missed 11 of 17 shots.
  • Worst of all, the Grizzlies ended the first quarter on a rare 15-3 rebounding run.
  • Amazingly, the Thunder only gave up three offensive rebounds in the last three quarters.
  • Aside from the poor defensive rebounding, I thought the Thunder played excellent defense in the first quarter. Held the Grizzlies to 37.9 percent shooting. Held the bigs to four points on 2-for-9 shooting.
  • Steven Adams got some quality minutes tonight on both Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, who made his return after a 23-game absence. I thought Steve-O was fantastic. He defended without many double teams and stayed down on most pump fakes. And he rebounded his tail off, tying Ibaka with a team-high nine. Four of those came on the offensive end.
  • Adams: 21 minutes. Perkins: 17 minutes.
  • Didn’t have a problem with Adams not playing down the stretch, despite how well he was playing. I’d take Nick Collison on Z-Bo over Steve-O every chance I get. Collison was fabulous against Randolph down the stretch.
  • A thought came to mind as I watched the fourth quarter tonight. If Perk and Sefolosha are so valuable, why aren’t they playing fourth quarters? Kind of a contradiction there. It doesn’t happen all the time. But it’s happening enough to make you wonder why Brooks is so hellbent on sticking with the first five if he’s proving through his fourth-quarter minute distribution that he doesn’t value them on the floor that much.
  • Anybody else see how fast Mike Miller passed that ball at the end of the first quarter? Homeboy was NOT ruining his 3-point percentage.
  • I thought it was gutsy by Brooks to not start Durant for the second period after watching his team score just 16 points in the opening period. But it couldn’t have worked out better. The Thunder’s second stringers and Jackson started the second quarter on a 6-0 run. Durant didn’t return until 7:22 was left in the period. The Thunder was ahead 28-27, a 12-3 advantage with Durant on the bench. That’s some great rest for KD.
  • Westbrook was in the middle of timeout huddles all night giving his guys pep talks, clapping them on, screaming let’s go and just offering words of advice or encouragement. I was impressed.
  • The free throw count midway through the second quarter was 12-2 in favor of the Thunder. Can’t deny that was keeping the Thunder in it.
  • About Jackson. He struggled. No doubt about it. He made bad passes, turned it over seven times, played shoddy defense, was almost a non-factor as a facilitator and went 0-for in the fourth quarter. Not his best work. But what undoubtedly will be overlooked in this game is his second quarter. Most of the time we talk about players having bounce-back games. Dude had some kind of bounce-back quarter. He was brutal in the opening quarter but borderline brilliant in the next. He shook off his slow start and did everything he could to get his team back in it. He played the entire second quarter and scored nine points on 4-for-6 shooting.
  • Again, Jackson didn’t have his best night. But let’s keep this in perspective, because I think people are blowing Jackson’s “struggles” out of proportion. He’s a sixth man. Not a starter. Not yet. He’s going against first-line guys for the first time in his career. A learning curve is to be expected. But when Russ comes back, he’ll be tons better from getting these experiences. And if 17 points, six boards and three assists is a bad game by Jackson, we should all be wondering just how great the great ones will be.
  • Durant on Jackson: “I mean, we just keep encouraging him. He has to do a lot, man. You got to take that into account. He has to run the team. He has to get everybody involved. He has to make sure he picks and chooses his spots and then come back on the defensive end and know all the rotations at the point guard position, the 2-guard and the 3. So he got to do a lot. You got to give him some credit. He’s playing hard. But we just got to keep encouraging him. And we just got to help him out. It’s a team. It’s not about one-on-one defense. It’s team defense. A couple of those 3s, we could have helped him out on. A few of them, (Lee) just made some tough ones.”
  • Loved how Jackson owned his defensive struggles. “Defensively, I was poor tonight,” Jackson said. “Courtney Lee, he got a new (season-high). He earned it. He worked for it. But I definitely could have made it more difficult. I let him get hot early. He hit 10 of, I think, their 14 to start the game. I can’t start off like that again. I just got to lock in from the time we step on the court until the time all zeroes strike in the fourth quarter. Going forward, especially with this next Houston game, a team that likes to get up and down, likes to attack the paint, I got to really take pride on defense and work on keeping my man in front of me.”
  • Another thing I noticed about Jackson tonight. He didn’t hesitate one second on offensive rebound 3s. I asked him if he’s making a concerted effort to let those fly now. He gave a surprisingly candid answer. “I’m just making more of a concerted effort to play more free-flowing and take what I see,” he said. “I kind of let people get in my head at times, but I put in so many hours of work this summer that there’s no reason that if there’s a late contest coming or if I’m open then I shouldn’t put the ball in the air, especially from behind the 3-point line. As long as I believe in myself and believe in the work and I just let it ride, I think I have a good chance to make it. I just try to zone as much noise out of my mind as possible and then just go out and play.”
  • I know “Walking in Memphis” was a hit, but Grizzlies fans thought Thunder players traveled on every single possession tonight. OK, that was corny, I know. I’ll try harder.
  • An usher I spoke with tonight in Memphis swore Bill Kennedy has it out for the Grizzlies. He went on and on about how Kennedy “never” gives the Grizzlies calls. I guess every fan base has “that” official. On a related note: I stopped counting after Kennedy made his fourth call against the Thunder.
  • One more thing about officials. I had never seen or heard of Justin VanDuyne, No. 64 tonight. Apparently, he’s a “non-staff official.” Can’t say I know what that means beyond what seems to be the obvious. At any rate, you would think most newbies who are filling in would try to blend in. Be seen, not heard, right? Wrong. Homeboy had his fingerprints all over this game. If there was a call to be made, he made it. And he was strident about it at that.
  • Moment of the game: Grizzlies fans booing Nick Calathes being inserted for Conley with 6:32 left in the third quarter. I’ve seen and heard some brutal stuff from fans. That right there topped the list. If you’re wondering why they did it though, Calathes has been terrible. Can’t shoot. Can’t make free throws. Can’t run the team. Grizzlies fans are sick of him. Funny thing is before the game Memphis coach Dave Joerger said he absolutely needs Calathes to play double-digit minutes. Said they’d run Conley into the ground if he doesn’t.
  • If you think Mike Conley isn’t an elite point guard, you haven’t watched enough Mike Conley.
  • A few ‘wow” plays: Steve-O’s offensive rebound and subsequent putback in traffic with 2:15 left in the third quarter, Durant’s gorgeous no-look drop off to Adams with 6:32 left in the second, Jeremy Lamb’s putback dunk with 38.9 seconds left in the third, Durant jacking a bad 3, which led to Lee’s buzzer-beating 3 to end the third.
  • A few momentum-killing plays: Sefolosha’s missed fast break layup with 11:09 left in the third, Ibaka’s missed reverse dunk off Durant’s feed with 4:31 left in the third, Conley’s 3-pointer to put the Grizzlies ahead 77-73 with 8:21 left in the fourth after Durant had just missed a 3 on the previous Thunder possession.
  • Had Durant nailed that 3, it would have given the Thunder a 76-74 lead. Instead, he missed and Conley made his and the Thunder never wrestled away the lead in the fourth.
  • Jackson’s first assist didn’t come until 8:57 was left in the fourth quarter.
  • Fish hit a huge 3 with 6:00 left. Pulled the Thunder back within 3. It was sort of a YOLO 3. Plenty of time remaining on the shot clock. But he took it and took it with confidence despite being 0-for-4 prior to that one going down.
  • I love Gasol’s passion.
  • Was I the only one who thought Brooks was going to leave KD on Gasol in the final six minutes just to keep Fish on the floor? Can’t be.
  • Too many turnovers tonight. Amazingly, the Grizzlies didn’t really make the Thunder pay for them. They scored just 15 points off the Thunder’s 19 giveaways.
  • Shame the Thunder couldn’t corral Conley after Ibaka’s 3 with 4.6 seconds left. When he squirted free, he helped run 3.3 precious seconds off the clock. With no timeouts remaining, and Lee stepping to the line to make both foul shots to put Memphis back up by three, the Thunder was toast.
  • Up next: at Houston on Thursday.
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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