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Nuggets from my notebook: Grizzlies 103, Thunder 97

by Darnell Mayberry Modified: May 14, 2013 at 9:05 am •  Published: May 14, 2013

Nuggets from my notebook from Monday’s Game 4 overtime loss at Memphis.

  • The same stuff has led to the same outcome three straight times. That’s got to be a discouraging reality for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Three straight times now the game has come down to the final two minutes. And three straight times now the Thunder has left a loser.
  • In all three games there has been some mix of blown opportunities on offense, untimely turnovers and, worst of all, bad defensive rebounding.
  • It was the last one that plagued the Thunder most tonight. Memphis retrieved three offensive rebounds in the final 90 seconds and its last one inside the final three minutes of overtime. The Grizzlies got the first two on the same trip, which kept the Thunder from securing possession and snapping a 92-all tie. Their third offensive rebound in that stretch prevented the Thunder from regaining the lead when it was trailing 93-92, and it ultimately resulted in the Grizzlies extending the lead to two.
  • Even after all that, Memphis struggled to make the Thunder pay. The Grizzlies made just two of four free throws off of those offensive rebounds and allowed Kevin Durant the chance to tie the game at 94 on a driving layup with 6.4 seconds left in regulation.
  • Kendrick Perkins then supplied a game-saving block when he rejected a jumper by Zach Randolph as time expired. Perk’s defensive play prevented a potential game-winner and gave the Thunder one more chance to get out of Memphis with a pivotal win that would even the series at two games apiece and returned home-court advantage to the Thunder.
  • But the final five minutes only delayed the Thunder’s misery. OKC went 1-for-8 from the field in overtime and got its lone bucket on a Derek Fisher 3-pointer.
  • Durant was 0-for-5 in regulation. Most of his shots in the extra period didn’t come close to dropping. After a brilliant three quarters, he seemed to lose every ounce of rhythm he had in the fourth quarter and overtime. He was 2-for-13 for five points in the final 17 minutes.
  • This was a game in which the Thunder really missed Russell Westbrook. Sure, you could say that about every game these days. But this one truly had the look and feel of a Thunder win. How many times have we seen the Thunder locked in back and forth affairs like this? And how many times have we seen the Thunder come out on top? The only difference this time is that Batman couldn’t be in the building to help Superman save the day. And without its dynamic duo taking turns carving up the defense, the Thunder simply couldn’t overcome the late-game mistakes or missed opportunities.
  • Durant earlier in the day when I asked what he’s learned about himself in the absence of Westbrook: “That we need him. We miss him.”
  • Found it interesting that the team still hung Westbrook’s name tag above his customary stall inside Memphis’ visiting locker room. “He’s still family,” said one person with the team. On both sides of his game shoes, Perk wrote “Lil Homie #0.” He’s done it since Game 3 against the Rockets, but this was my first time noticing tonight.
  • The Grizzlies did a great job alternating Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince on Durant down the stretch. Whether it was by design or not, it was extremely effective. Allen made Durant’s catches tough and used his pesky, crowding style to disrupt the entire offense. Prince then tagged in and supplied great on-ball defense that made Durant’s shots tough.
  • Memphis had 21 second-chance points tonight. Seventeen came in the second and third quarter, which were the stretches that ranked a close second to the final seven minutes as most disastrous.
  • The Thunder held a 17-point lead with 4 1/2 minutes remaining in the second quarter. From that point until the end of the third, the Grizzlies outscored the Thunder 47-30, stealing momentum before heading into the fourth quarter confident and all tied up.
  • When Marc Gasol splashed in a 20-footer with 2:59 remaining in the third to bring the Grizzlies within 72-70, it felt like the Thunder was in trouble. The Grind House, as the locals like to call the FedExForum, was rocking. Music began blaring. Fans started waving those yellow towels that read “All Heart” and “Grit. Grind.” And the Grizzlies players suddenly started strutting like they smelled blood.
  • On the very next Thunder possession Fisher air-balled a 3-pointer. The Grizzlies went down and tied the game on a pair of Gasol free throws. At that point, it was a dogfight. And the odds had shifted in favor of the Grizzlies.
  • Here’s how great this game was. In the final nine minutes of regulation there were nine lead changes and neither team led by more than three points. Felt like a heavyweight fight, with each team taking and giving the best haymaker they had.
  • The same in those final four offensive rebounds the Grizzlies got is the Thunder played some terrific defense (for the most part) to force Memphis into misses.
  • The Thunder was lucky Memphis didn’t burn it more when OKC doubled Gasol whenever Durant was guarding him. Durant played pretty solid defense on Gasol. But those double teams left shooters wide open in the corner and on the wings. Gasol made the right passes out of the double, but his shooters just didn’t knock down the shots. Thunder might want to rethink that strategy. Just because OKC got away with it doesn’t necessarily mean it worked.
  • Durant was fouled by Zach Randolph with 42 seconds left in regulation. Randolph clearly reached in and yanked KD’s arm. He should have been shooting to free throws that would have potentially would have given the Thunder a 94-93 lead.
  • Raise your hand if you just knew KD was about to pull up for the potential game-winning 3 at the end of regulation. Good thing he didn’t. Showed tremendous maturity to get to the cup in that situation.
  • Not sure what exactly Fisher was thinking when he threw it in to Allen with 22 seconds remaining in overtime. That was a huge turnover that came with the Thunder trailing by only three. Even if that was Fisher’s only option, why wasn’t there more mustard on that pass?
  • You could look at this game two ways. On one hand, you could say the role players finally stepped up and remain optimistic about the Thunder’s chances as the series shifts back to OKC. On the other hand, you could look at the Thunder getting about as good of a game out of the role players as can be expected only to still come up short and think this series is all but over.
  • Serge Ibaka was sensational. It was clear his confidence was sky high from the start. He wasn’t hesitating on his jump shot, and he was hitting the boards with consistent aggression. He finished with 17 points, a game-high 14 rebounds and three blocked shots in what was by far his best game of the series.
  • Scott Brooks switched things up by starting Ibaka on Gasol and Perk on Randolph. I initially didn’t understand the change. Ibaka had done a great job on Randolph and Perk had done a great job on Gasol. But it was a move intended to free up Ibaka from having to wrestle with Randolph on the low block and under the boards, allowing him to get back to what he does best as a defender, which is roam a bit more, while also preserving him for the offensive end. It ended up working fairly well for Ibaka, especially at the start of the game.
  • Randolph and Gasol still finished with their best combined games of this series. Both had 23 points. Randolph had a team-high 12 rebounds. Gasol had 11 boards. Neither shot 50 percent from the floor, though.
  • Kevin Martin stepped up and scored 18 points on 6-for-12 shooting. K-Mart was doing some serious backdoor cutting tonight, and what I liked most is he was finishing strong, dunking the ball with two hands rather than settling for finesse lay-ins. Not sure why he doesn’t finish like that more frequently.
  • I can’t wait to see Reggie Jackson next year. This experience is so good for him and his development. Couple that with next year being his third year and he could enjoy a huge jump. Some of the things he’s doing on the court even right now are just mind-blowing. Like that baseline drive and reverse layup in traffic with just over eight minutes remaining in regulation. Or that smooth fast break lay-in he had two minutes later. Or the driving, two-handed dunk he had with just over three minutes left in the first quarter. Already, in his 10th playoff game, Jackson is able to provide explosive plays like those while also getting a game-high eight assists and grabbing a boatload of rebounds. Young fella’s got a bright future.
  • I just hope Brooks lets Jackson be Jackson next year. I get the sense Brooks is trying to force Reggie into being a “point guard” instead of just letting him be his all-around explosive self. If this unfortunate stretch without Westbrook has taught Brooks anything I would hope it’s that the more offensive weapons he has the better. No more relying on Batman, Superman and solid defense to win games.
  • Up next. Game 5 on Wednesday.

-DM-


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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