When the Memphis Grizzlies rolled into town, they came carrying the NBA's best record since Dec. 21.
But with their floor general, Mike Conley, sidelined with a sprained ankle, the mission became much clearer and much more manageable for the Thunder.
Don't have another letdown.
Kevin Durant did everything he could to make sure that didn't happen.
After a disappointing 15-point loss Saturday at Washington, the Thunder bounced back with much better energy and effort in an 86-77 win over Memphis on Monday inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Durant led the way with a game-high 31 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, setting the example he said he needed to following Saturday's loss. Seven of Durant's helpers were to Serge Ibaka, who added 21 points and a game-high 12 rebounds to complement Durant on the offensive end. Reggie Jackson chipped in 12 points, as the Thunder won for the 11th time in 12 games.
Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol each scored 13 points to lead the Grizzlies. Both were held below their scoring averages thanks to an outstanding low-post defensive effort that began with Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins but also boosted by Nick Collison and Steven Adams off the bench. Gasol and Randolph combined to go 11 of 26 from the floor.
Thabo Sefolosha, meanwhile, slowed Courtney Lee, who led the Grizzlies with 24 points in the last meeting between the two teams, a three-point Memphis win. Lee and Mike Miller had 11 points apiece.
“I thought we did a good job of playing tough, defensive basketball throughout the game,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “One of the strengths of our team obviously is our versatility. I think tonight showed sometimes we have to play different styles of basketball to get a win … On the road, we went small. Tonight, I thought we did a good job of winning big.”
OKC led by as many as 17 points and took a 51-36 lead into the halftime locker room.
A dominant 6 1/2-minute stretch to end the second quarter created the cushion, as the Thunder closed the period on a 20-4 run. Durant scored or assisted on 15 of the Thunder's points during the late push.
But the Thunder's defense also was dialed in, holding the Grizzlies without a field goal for the final 6:26 of the period.
“That was the first time and probably the only time tonight that we played our basketball,” Brooks said. “Stops and run. Stops and run. Get a good shot on offense.”
Memphis went 0-for-9 with three turnovers during that stretch. Six of the Grizzlies' nine misses came within six feet, illustrating how in sync the Thunder was even when Memphis got into the teeth of its defense.
The second half simply was about the Thunder preserving what it had built. And Memphis would make that tough.
But OKC held off Memphis rallies twice in the second half, once in the third quarter and once in the fourth when the Grizzlies pulled within three. Lee scored on a driving layup to cut the margin to 78-75 with 4:54 remaining, but the Thunder responded with an impressive 7-0 run to bump the lead back to 10.
Durant made a pullup jumper, Sefolosha hit an open 3-pointer that came by way of textbook ball movement and Durant intercepted a pass and drove the length of the floor for a finger roll.
In the final 4 1/2 minutes, OKC held Memphis to 0-for-7 shooting while forcing the Grizzlies into four turnovers.
“We definitely wanted to bounce back,” Sefolosha said, “and that's what we did tonight.”