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Nuggets From My Notebook: Thunder 93, Grizzlies 91

by Darnell Mayberry Published: May 5, 2013

Nuggets from my notebook from Sunday’s Game 1 win over Memphis.

  • Kevin Durant is showing us how special he is. It was one thing to average 35, nine and six and shoot 51 percent in four games without Russell Westbrook against a who-cares-about-defense team like the Houston Rockets. It’s totally different for Durant to open this semifinal series against a defensive-minded team like Memphis and put up 35, 15 and six while shooting 50 percent.
  • Entering this series, the Grizzlies appeared to have the right tools for the job of slowing down Durant. They had Tayshaun Prince, who this season smothered Durant into 39 percent shooting and three turnovers on average in his 115 minutes of court time against Durant. They also had bulldog Tony Allen and, if all else failed, Quincy Pondexter. But Prince’s play tonight made it seem like his regular season success was a fluke. Meanwhile, Lionel Hollins after the game essentially said Allen no longer can defend Durant. “That’s a few years ago,” Hollins said. “Durant’s a few years older. When we put him on him during the season, he just took him to the post and it causes us to help way too much when Durant’s in the post against a smaller guy.” Welp. So so much for that, Memphis.
  • Allen on Durant: “I’d like the opportunity to guard anybody. But unfortunately that’s not my matchup this series. That’s Tayshaun’s. But don’t be surprised with anything. We might try anything. So don’t be surprised if I’m able to lock up with him.”
  • Allen on Durant taking him in the post in the regular season: “I just remember us winning 2-1. That’s all I remember. I’m not really a X and O guy. I just remember at the end of the day we won two, they won one.”
  • Allen when asked whether Durant’s gotten better posting up smaller guys: “Man, he got better at everything, honestly. I’m not finna sit here and brag about how good he is. We all know how good he is. We need to find ways to stop him and make those other guys beat us, which they did today.”
  • Read Allen’s last sentence again. It’s a significant one. On a day in which Durant did his thing, masterfully I might add, and the received little help in the form of offense from most his mates, the Thunder’s supporting cast stepped up and beat the Grizzlies by chipping in small plays. Ultimately, those plays piled up.
    1. Serge Ibaka blocked two shots in the final five minutes, both of them from point-blank range and both of them keeping the Thunder within striking distance.
    2. Kevin Martin blocked a pull-up jumper by Pondexter. And then he won the ensuing jump ball to give the Thunder a chance at taking the lead with three minutes left to play.
    3. Derek Fisher poked the ball away from Mike Conley from behind, resulting in Durant’s go-ahead jumper with 11.1 seconds left.
    4. Thabo Sefolosha got his paws on a pass Marc Gasol intended for Conley. The ball bounced toward the sideline. Sefolosha stuck with it, bumping bodies with Conley as the two gave chase, and watched the ball go to the Thunder after Conley fell out of bounds with possession.
    5. Reggie Jackson coolly canned two free throws to put the Thunder ahead by three with 2.9 seconds remaining.
  • Each of those hustle plays in those final five minutes provided the blueprint for how the Thunder can survive this series. Durant very well might continue to do his thing. But without Russell Westbrook, and against one of the league’s stingiest defenses, every game of this series figures to be more of a dogfight than any of the previous 25 matchups these teams have had in the Oklahoma City era. Because of that, the Thunder will need its role players to provide those little things and just hope they pile up and become enough like they were today.
  • “There’s no question we are a really good team with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “But what really makes us good is our role players. We have stars in those departments.”
  • K-Mart was the only other real source of offense the Thunder had outside of Durant. He scored 25 points and made eight of 14 shots in 32 minutes. The performance came two days after Martin’s huge Game 6 at Houston. So maybe he’s coming out of that funk after two straight strong games.
  • Martin: “We got a nice little flow going right now. I think we’re settling in, realizing we’re not going to have Russell. I think guys are just making an extra effort just to get everybody else involved.”
  • Durant’s fourth quarter: 12 points, 6-for-9 shooting, four rebounds, three assists, one steal, one blocked shot, one turnover, 12 minutes.
  • Durant had just four fewer rebounds than Gasol and Zach Randolph had combined. That said two things: 1) the Thunder did a fantastic job of keeping the Grizzlies’ bigs off the boards. 2) Durant busted his tail on the glass. All 15 of his rebounds came on the defensive end, which was huge.
  • Thanks in large part to Durant’s effort, OKC out-rebounded Memphis 43-40. The Grizzlies grabbed just seven offensive rebounds. They scored only four second-chance points. The Grizzlies generally have pounded the Thunder on the boards. They averaged 17.3 offensive rebounds against the Thunder during the regular season, the second most the Thunder allowed against any team. Keeping the Grizzlies off the glass was critical in this win.
  • About the offense. Boy was it ugly. The results, that is, not necessarily the process. The Thunder missed its first 10 shots and 12 of its first 13. The first field goal didn’t come until Durant, of course, buried a step back with 7:01 left in the first quarter.
  • The tradition of standing until the first basket backfired today. Fans were forced to sit at the first timeout when the Thunder still was scoreless with 8:18 remaining in the opening period. They stood again at the end of the timeout.
  • The poor start could have been fatigue. Both teams played Friday night. But Hollins said it also stemmed from playing a different team. “We’ve been playing the same team for six games. They’ve been playing the same team for six games. All of a sudden, now you’ve got to go play somebody else. You’ve got to get adjusted. And I thought after that first quarter the teams played pretty decent and did what they normally do. But it was not very pretty in the first quarter. A lot of turnovers. A lot of missed layups. A lot of missed shots.”
  • The first quarter saw the teams combine to shoot 12 of 46 from the field.
  • Durant: 13 of 26 from the field. Rest of the Thunder: 20 of 54.
  • The rest of the Thunder, minus K-Mart: 12 of 40.
  • Ibaka got the award for Sunday’s stinker. Offensively, at least. He scored just five points on 1-for-10 shooting. His shot looked as bad as it has in a long, long time. Just no rhythm from him in this one.
  • But more important that Ibaka’s subpar offense was his strong defense. Ibaka did a terrific job on Randolph. It was sort of surprising how well Ibaka played Z-Bo. He bodied up, played physically, stayed down on pump fakes, moved his feet on drives and contested shots as best he could. We all know by now how well Nick Collison plays Randolph. But today Ibaka defended Randolph the best.
  • The Thunder could have done a better job on Gasol. He finished with 20 points and nine rebounds. Kendrick Perkins got the bulk of the assignment against Gasol. And most of Gasol’s damage came from outside, which you can live with. But I’d like to see Perk press up on Gasol more. Ten of Gasol’s 14 shot attempts were beyond eight feet. He made six of them. That’s a percentage that’s past the point of something you live with. That’s something you’ve got to shut off. It’s not like Gasol’s going to blow by you. Might as well press up on him and take away that jumper.
  • Conley scored 13 points on 15 shots. He had only three assists and two turnovers. The Thunder will be lucky to see that out of Conley again.
  • Collison got called for a bogus flagrant foul in this one. Ever seen a flagrant where a player is offering assistance on the foul player’s landing? Me either until today.
  • There was a stretch in this one that could have gotten out of hand for the Thunder but Memphis couldn’t make OKC pay. The Thunder sat Durant at the start of the second quarter while trailing by two. Memphis started the period with two starters, Conley and Randolph, against five Thunder bench players. Ibaka check back in a minute, 55 seconds into the period, and Keyon Dooling replaced Conley three minutes, three seconds in. But Durant sat four minutes, 18 seconds and the Grizzlies lead remained at two when KD returned.
  • The Thunder didn’t record its first blocked shot until 6:23 remained in the third quarter.
  • Interesting that in Game 4 against the Rockets some thought Brooks should not have called a timeout with 12.1 seconds left. After James Harden missed his jumper and the Thunder secured the rebound, some thought the Thunder, trailing by two, would have been better off just getting it to KD and not letting Houston’s defense set up. Well, that’s sort of what happened today. After Fisher’s steal against Conley landed right in Durant’s hands, Durant didn’t hesitate to race up the court and splash one in.
  • Brooks: “During that timeout, I said if we get a stop and it’s in Kevin’s hands, or a long rebound in the right guy’s hands, push. I don’t want the defense to get set. But if we don’t get a stop call a timeout. Or, if we get a stop and it’s not in the right guy’s hands we were going to call a timeout.”
  • Brooks then said not calling a timeout once the ball was in Durant’s hands was a better option than calling a timeout and allowing the Grizzlies to set up. “That’s a better play,” Brooks said. “We had some 3-point shooters on the floor, and Kevin has a high IQ with his decisions with the handle. When he handles the basketball he can make good decisions. And I thought he had a chance to drive. But he chose to pull up. Or if he chose to drive I thought he had corner 3-point shooters. So he puts them in a tough position. That’s what the great players do.”
  • Durant on the timeout vs. no timeout strategy: “We got a steal. I could see if we had a rebound and they were on their way back down court. But we had numbers in transition. So once we have numbers we’re a team that likes to get out and run.”
  • The two biggest buzz words in this series will be “big” and “small.” There will be a ton of analysis about which team did what when they utilized a big lineup and a small lineup. It started tonight. Get used to hearing a lot more of it.
  • Up next. Game 2 on Tuesday.

-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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