The Thunder had a chance to win Game 1 against Memphis. It did. The Thunder had a chance to win Game 2. It didn’t. The Grizzlies won the last two minutes and thus the game, 99-93. Here’s what I heard and saw:
* First, Kendrick Perkins. Perk was mostly awful when the Thunder had the ball. He played just 24:13 and was minus-10 – the Thunder was outscored by 10 points with Perkins on the court. Which wasn’t the worst plus/minus of the night; Reggie Jackson was minus 14. More on that later.
Perkins made just one of four, which is no big deal, and had six rebounds, which is fine, considering Marc Gasol had only five in 431/2 minutes. And Perkins had only three turnovers, though it seemed like 13.
The truth is, Perkins always looks worse than his numbers. But it also seems that on a team without Russell Westbrook, offensive deficiencies are magnified.
So let’s look deeper. Exactly how valuable was Perkins in Game 2?
Gasol had only five rebounds in 43:28. He had three rebounds with Perk on the floor, including both of Gasol’s offensive rebounds. No big deal. But here’s a problem – with Perkins on the court, Memphis had 15 of its 21 offensive rebounds. Hard to blame Perk for that, since Gasol wasn’t going crazy, but something was breaking down on the boards with Perk on the court.
Gasol clearly scores easier when Perkins is on the bench. Gasol had eight points with Perk on the floor; Gasol made three of four shots and two foul shots. With Perk on the bench, Gasol had 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting and 6-of-6 foul shooting.
With Perkins, the Thunder offensive was inefficient – 37 points on 43 possessions. Without Perkins, the Thunder offense had 59 points on 47 possessions.
With Perkins, the Thunder defense was efficient – the Grizzlies scored 43 points on 46 possessions. Without Perkins, the Thunder defense was inefficient – the Grizzlies scored 56 points on 43 possessions.
The evidence is clear. Perkins has to play against these guys. But just as clearly, Scotty Brooks has to find a way to minimize Perk’s damage on offense.
* Reggie Jackson has to be more assertive. Or maybe Memphis’ defense is just fantastic, which is absolutely possible. Jackson was 3-for-3 at the basket; he was 0-for-5 on shots away from the basket, including three 3-point misses, a 14-footer and wild, left-handed something-or-other as the shot clock wound down.
Jackson has to penetrate and get to the rim. Of course, with Mike Conley and Tony Allen patrolling the perimeter, and Gasol standing sentry, there’s nothing easy about that.
* At halftime, Kevin Durant had six shots. Serge Ibaka had eight. Now, Durant had six foul shots and four turnovers, so he accounted for far more possessions (13) than did Ibaka (eight). But still.
Ibaka finished 5-of-12 and maybe shot himself out of his slump, to some degree, considering he was 5-of-23 the previous two games.
The good news: Ibaka’s misses look better than they have been looking. Ibaka was 2-of-7 on outside jumpers, including a miss on a corner 3-pointer. He was 3-of-5 on shots at the basket. It’s always good to get Ibaka shots in the paint. But he wasn’t that far off.
* Thabo Sefolosha scored the Thunder’s first five points, then scored two points the final 44:45 of the game. Sefolosha missed a 3-pointer in the first quarter and a 3-pointer in the third quarter.
It seems like Thabo is not in the flow of the offense the way he was when Russell Westbrook was playing.
* The series is tied 1-1, and it seems the Grizzlies have the inside track to advancement. But Durant’s at least talking straight.
“We feel confident. We can’t put our heads down,” Durant said. “We can’t be upset with ourselves because we lost. Memphis is a really good team. We’ve just got to keep moving and keep going forward.
“I think there are some things we can correct and get better at and we’ll be fine. Me as a leader, I’ve always got to stay positive. It can’t ever look like the series is over. It made it a little tougher on us, but we always like a fight and we always like a challenge.”
* Here’s a fun way to gauge Kevin Martin’s value. Go strictly by halves.
Memphis Game 2 first half: Martin 1-of-5 shooting, four points, Thunder outscored 54-51.
Memphis Game 2 second half: Martin 1-of-6, two points, Thunder outscored 45-42.
Memphis Game 1 first half: Martin 5-of-9 shooting, 15 points, Thunder outscores Memphis 47-46.
Memphis Game 1 second half: Martin 3-of-5, 10 points, Thunder outscores Memphis 46-45.
Houston Game 6 first half: Martin 5-of-8, 21 points, Thunder outscores 58-54.
Houston Game 6 second half: Martin 2-of-5, four points, Thunder outscored Rockets 45-40.
Houston Game 5 first half: Martin 0-of-6, no points, Thunder outscored 50-43.
Houston Game 5 second half: Martin 1-of-4, two points, teams tie 57-57.
Houston Game 4 first half: Martin 4-of-9, 14 points, Thunder outscores Rockets 60-53.
Houston Game 4 second half: Martin 1-of-2, two points, Thunder outscored 52-43.
Houston Game 3, first half: Martin 3-of-5, 12 points, Thunder outscores Rockets 66-49.
Houston Game 3, second half: Martin 0-of-6, no points, Thunder outscored 52-38.
So let’s review. Since losing Westbrook, in halves that safely could be called excellent production by Martin, the Thunder has outscored foes by 30 points in six games. In Martin halves that fairly can be called poor, the Thunder has been outscored by 36. And the Thunder outscored Memphis by five in a half that Martin played so-so.
* Hasheem Thabeet doesn’t do a lot – he had three rebounds and two foul in 12:45 of playing time – but he did give the big guys some rest. And he’s awfully active. Sometimes it looks Thabeet dropped from the ceiling trying to swipe at a rebound.
* I know Durant didn’t come through in the last two minutes. But his second half numbers were awesome: 8-of-15 shooting, 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists.
Still, the execution of the last 21/2 minutes was abysmal. After Perkins – yep, Perkins – gave the Thunder a 90-89 lead with two foul shots at 2:41, the Thunder went five straight possessions without scoring.
Durant had an open 3-pointer, thanks to a cool pump fake on Allen, but otherwise, a series of iffy shots. The Derek Fisher air ball. A hesitant Jackson 3-pointer. A contested Durant 3-pointer. Plus two turnovers. Only Fisher’s meaningless 3-pointer at the buzzer kept Memphis from ending the game with a 10-0 run.
“We knew that we had to take away some other people,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said, referring to Durant’s big night. “Except for Fisher’s 14 in the first half, we did pretty much that. We were hanging on by a thread in the first half when they were raining all of the threes on us. We just kept scoring and scoring and the next thing you know, we were up at half time. In the fourth quarter it was a little bit of the same. Durant got it going and scoring it, and he just kept making a play, kept making a play, kept making a play and in the end we got stops.”
* Rebounding is what won the game for Memphis (23 second-chance points), and turnovers killed the Thunder (21, leading to 29 points). But the most embarrassing stat for the Thunder should be fast-break points. Memphis outscored the Thunder 18-7 in transition.
Where have you gone, Russell Westbrook?
* Mike Conley has turned into a wonderful player.
Heck, let’s just compare his night to Durant’s.
Points: Durant 36, Conley 26.
Rebounds: Durant 11, Conley 10.
Assists: Durant nine, Conley nine.
Shooting: Durant 11-of-21, Conley 11-of-22.
The only major difference is that Durant got to the foul line (11 of 12) twice as much as did Conley, and Durant had five turnovers to Conley’s two.
Conley also seems like such a class act.
Gasol said Conley was “more aggressive. We did a good job at getting him in the open. Zach Randolph made good first screens and I tried to clean it up. Most of the time, they tried to trap him and he got in the paint and he shot well.”
* Clean up the rebounding and the turnovers, and the Thunder has to feel good about itself. Cleaning up the turnovers could come easily. Cleaning up the rebounding will not.
“It is going to be tough, but we know we have to correct some areas that we need to improve on quickly within the next three days,” said Brooks. “We have time to work on those areas and focus on those areas. Our guys have been around. They have been through a lot of games before, a lot of series before and we understand that it is the first to four and that we are excited about the challenge.
“We knew it was going to be a challenge, we knew that going into this series. This is a very physical team that does a lot of good things and we have to make sure that we counter that with our physical play.”
* Fisher’s ageless routine continues. He had one horrible possession – an air-balled 10-footer with a little more than two minutes left and the Thunder up 90-89 – but otherwise, Fish was pristine.
In two games against Memphis, Fisher has made six of eight 3-pointers. He’s 9-of-16 from the field and has added to his arsenal – he’s been attacking more against Memphis’ pressure defense.
* As the series continues, look for Hollins to use more Tony Allen and less Tayshaun Prince in defending Durant.
* Through two games, Durant isn’t the only one carrying a big load. He’s played 86:16. But Gasol has played 83:30, Conley 80:25 and Zach Randolph 79:48. Clearly, the Thunder has more depth it can depend on. Can the Thunder take advantage?
* I think you’ll see Scotty Brooks go with the small lineup again, even if Gasol and Randolph are in the game together.
The Thunder traded twos for threes. It scored 16 points on its first six possessions with Durant guarding Gasol. You can’t do it early in the game, because of potential foul trouble. But the Grizzlies were hard-pressed to man up with the Thunder when Durant, Fisher, Ibaka, Martin and Sefolosha were spreading the court.