Well, it’s over, this Thunder season ending just like we knew it would, ever since Russell Westbrook’s injury. Somewhere short of the NBA Finals. I don’t know if looking back at a season-ending game matters, but if it does, here’s what I heard and saw from the Thunder’s 88-84 loss to Memphis:
* I’ve never seen a series like this. Five games; three in the 90s, two in the 80s, all coming down to the final minute.
Game 1: Kevin Durant’s jumper gives OKC a 91-90 lead with 11.1 seconds left. The Thunder holds on 93-91.
Game 2: Durant’s 3-pointer is off with 1:44 left and OKC trailing 92-90. Another Durant 3-pointer is off with 15 seconds left and Memphis up 95-90. Grizzlies win 99-93. Worst game of the series.
Game 3: Derek Fisher ties the game 81-81 with 1:58 left, but the Thunder doesn’t score again. Memphis scores from the foul line the rest of the way. Reggie Jackson’s fast-break charging foul with 1:31 turns the momentum. The Grizzlies win 87-81.
Game 4: The biggest lead in the final 9:51 of regulation is three points. There are nine lead changes the final nine minutes of regulation. Durant’s driving scoop shot with six seconds left ties the game at 94-94. In overtime, Memphis dominates and wins 103-97.
Game 5: The Thunder mounts two amazing comebacks. Down 14 in the third quarter and can’t score, OKC gets within two by quarter’s end. Down 10 with three minutes left, OKC gets within two, and Durant misses a 16-footer with five seconds left. Memphis wins 88-84.
Amazing. Five games, all go down to the wire to close to it. All five could have gone either way. So near, and yet so far for OKC. The last four games went the Grizzlies’ way, so kudos to Memphis.
* Durant was worn down physically and emotionally. No doubt about it. His five shooting games: 13-of-26, 11-of-21, 9-of-19, 10-of-27, 5-of-21. Durant started hot in the early games, then cooled off. By series’ end, he wasn’t hot to start with. Here are his second half shooting numbers by game: 9-of-17, 8-of-15, 3-of-11, 5-of-12, 3-of-10.
Durant tried. He shot fewer long-range shots. But he still didn’t get near the basket. The Grizzlies wouldn’t let him. Of Durant’s shots, only four came closer than 10 feet, none closer than five. On those attempts and his mid-range shots, the Grizzlies had bodies all over him. Tayshaun Prince started out the series struggling with Durant but finished the series looking like his old Prime Pistons self. Throwing Prince, and then Allen, at Durant, never gave the Thunder star a chance to exploit an inferior defender. Quincy Pondexter guarded Durant a few minutes, but by then, Durant was so wore down, it didn’t help.
“We came up short,” Durant said. “Memphis is a really, really good team and they made it tough on us every one of these games. I gave it all I had for my team and I left it all out there on the floor. I missed 16 shots but I kept fighting and I kept being aggressive, and that’s all I could ask for. It is what it is. It’s tough to swallow right now, but I’m sure we’re going to look back on this down the line and appreciate this tough time. It’s something that we’ve got to embrace and get better from. It’s tough to lose your last game of the playoffs, but you’ve just got to move on.”
* Here’s how you know the Thunder was gassed. Memphis has no desire to run. The Grizzlies get the ball, protect it (10 turnovers the whole night; one in the first 211/2 minutes) and wait for Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph to lumber up court. Meanwhile, the Thunder wanted to push it. Set the pace. Increase the tempo.
And Memphis outscored OKC 13-11 in fast-break points.
* Amazing comebacks by the Thunder. I thought OKC was dead twice. “I thought our guys did a great job of competing,” Scotty Brooks said. “We didn’t have a lot of shots fall in, but we didn’t keep our head down and stop competing. That’s what our team is built on… the spirit of competition and competing for one another. That was very evident tonight in how we played. Shooting 36 percent, we haven’t shot the ball well all series long, but we still competed. We gave ourselves a chance to win every game so I’m proud of our guys.”
Said Memphis’ Quincy Pondexter: “In front of their home crowd, they were not going to lay down. They wanted it just as bad as us. It was going to be a dogfight until the last second. Our guys did a good job in playing with a lot of intensity.”
* Serge Ibaka was outstanding. He had 17 points on eight rebounds, with three blocked shots. It took Ibaka 17 shots (he made eight) to get those 17 points, which is normally not good production, but it’s more than acceptable against the Grizzlies.
That comes off the Game 4 performance of 17 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots, and it’s safe to say Ibaka’s slump ended. All without the safety net of his favorite offensive maneuver, the pick’n pop with Russell Westbrook.
Ibaka took only five mid-range jumpers; he missed them all. But because he was aggressive, that didn’t kill his stat line. Ibaka made a 3-pointer to open the game. The rest of his seven makes were four dunks, a follow shot, a six-footer in the lane and a driving bank shot. These last two games were a great encouragement about Ibaka’s future.
The next step for Ibaka will be to draw fouls the way Zach Randolph draws fouls. Ibaka and Randolph had the exact same shooting night — 8-of-17. But Randolph made 12 of 16 foul shots. Ibaka was 0-of-1. That’s why one guy was the star of the show, with 28 points, and the other just had a nice game.
* We had a good debate during the Thunder’s final timeout, down two with 10 seconds left. Go for two or go for three. I said go for two, unless you get a wide open three. Here was Brooks’ plan:
“Well, obviously it was going to KD. He did a great job of getting open and catching the ball. He had a great look, and that was the shot that we wanted. If they were going to collapse on him, we had 3-point shooters in the floor. If he had no look, he had those guys to pass it to. But he had a great look. That’s the shot I would live with 100 times out of 100 times. The thing about Kevin is that I live with his decisions. He has a pure heart when he plays and all of his decisions are always about the team. That was a good look, and unfortunately he didn’t make his shots tonight. He did get to the free throw line tonight, but he didn’t make his shots. Sometimes that happens. He had a heck of a year shooting, and unfortunately tonight he didn’t make his shots. That last shot was a fantastic look.”
I’d agree on all counts. I think Durant does have a pure basketball. And he did have a heck of a year.
* I know no one will believe this stat, but the Thunder outscored the Grizzlies 38-36 in the paint. Sometimes, you don’t realize what you’re seeing. But the Thunder defense actually did a decent job on Randolph (other than fouling) and Gasol. They combined to make just 13 of 30 shots. The key for Randolph was making the outside shot; three of his final four baskets came on jumpers. The Thunder can live with that. He was 3-of-8 outside 10 feet, 5-of-9 inside 10 feet.
* Reggie Jackson had an amazing transformation. Remember three months ago, some claimed he wasn’t a quality backup point guard. In Game 5, Jackson played 41:40, with 16 points, five assists (assists are hard to come by when your team can’t make baskets), nine rebounds and 7-of-15 shooting. He was clutch, too. Jackson’s 3-pointer with 14.3 seconds left cut Memphis’ lead to 86-84 and gave the Thunder a chance.
Jackson is going to help and help big-time next season. “It was just tough that we didn’t come out with the wins that we needed to advance,” Jackson said, “but we played a better team and they are moving on.”
* Kevin Martin had just six shots and four foul shots. He didn’t have a turnover. That’s eight possessions for Circle K. Eight usages. Without Westbrook, that’s not nearly enough.
Here are the usages: Durant 35, Ibaka 18, Jackson 15, Fisher 12, Martin 8, Perkins 7, Thabo 5. Got to get the ball to Martin more.
* That second quarter had to be the worst in Thunder history. Get outscored 32-15 in a do-or-die game. Shoot 4-of-19 from the field and commit seven turnovers. Give up nine second-chance points. Give up 15 points off turnovers. Just a miserable 12 minutes.
* You know what Tony Allen needs? A seat belt. I’ve never seen anything like Allen’s shirt toss. It was like one of those old college football stories, where a guy runs onto the field to make a tackle. You remember Dickie Maegel? The Rice star ran for touchdowns of 79, 95 and 34 yards in the 1954 Cotton Bowl as the Owls routed Alabama 28-6.
The 95-yard TD came courtesy of Bama’s Tommy Lewis, who jumped off the bench to nail Maegel. The referee ruled touchdown. That’s what NBA ref Marc Davis had to do Wednesday night. Make a quick decision on something he might have never seen.
A guy goes up for a shot, and here comes a T-shirt at his feet. Derek Fisher’s 3-pointer was ruled good, Kevin Durant made the ensuing technical foul shot and the Thunder suddenly was alive, trailing just 60-53 with 5:07 left in the third quarter.
Allen obviously didn’t mean to throw the shirt. The guy is so animated, he can’t sit still. Allen coaches while on the bench. Coaches with his arms and his legs and his expressions. I’m not sure there’s a player in the NBA like him. Anyway, Memphis coach Lionel Hollins had a great quote. When asked what he said to Allen after the play, Hollins said, “Same thing I said when he didn’t block out Durant (on a foul shot): ‘What the hell are you doing?’”
That will teach Hollins to sit Allen, as he did 19 minutes and nine seconds of this game. Hollins needs to put Allen in the game, where he can keep an eye on him.
* How the Thunder even was in this one is a mystery. Durant was 5-of-21 from the field. That’s a percentage of .238. All six times Durant has shot .250 or worse with the Thunder, with at least 15 shots, OKC has lost. Here are his worst shooting games with the Thunder:
1. Nov. 1, 2009: 3-of-20, OKC loses to Portland
2. April 30, 2010: 5-of-23, OKC to Lakers in West first round
3. Dec. 16, 2009: 4-of-18, OKC loses to Dallas
4. May 15, 2013: 5-of-21, OKC loses to Memphis in West semifinals
5. Nov. 3, 2010: 6-of-24, OKC loses to at Clippers
6. March 21, 2010: 4-of-16, OKC loses at Indiana.
Interestingly, two of the six games were in the playoffs and only two of the six were on the road.
* As the series went on, the Thunder learned to play defense without Perkins. In Game 5, Memphis scored 1.01 points per possession when Perk was out of the game, 0.94 points per possession when Perk was in the game. Not a huge difference. Comparatively, the Thunder’s offense when Perkins was in was 0.83 points per possession; 0.95 points without him.
Perkins’ offensive ineptness is partly mental. Perk knows the fans’ growing frustration, and he’s trying to do too much. The turnover after he made the steal, bringing the ball upcourt. It’s got to be clear. No dribbling up court of Perkins. The Thunder has other guys to do that. But Perk wants to ignite the crowd.
* The clear truth about Perkins is that Westbrook’s absence hurt him like it hurt a lot of guys. The Thunder is put together in a particular way. Two offensive stars, three defensive stars in the lineup, with one of those, Ibaka, able to score, too. Take out one of the offensive stars, and all of a sudden the balance is disrupted, and offensive shortcomings are magnified. That’s what happened to Perkins. The Thunder offense without Westbrook played under a magnifying glass, and Perk’s offense up close is not pretty.
* I sure would have liked to see Thabo Sefolosha play more. He played just 19:22. He played the first 6:05 of the game, then the first 13:17 of the second half. The Thunder had three stretches of good play in this game: first quarter, late third quarter, late fourth quarter. Thabo was in for all but the last one.
Thabo seemed to be, along with Serge Ibaka, the lone Boomers who still had gas left in the tank. He flew around the ball all night. Of course, he was quite rested, since he played less than half the game.
With Thabo in the game, Memphis scored 1.15 points per possession. With Thabo out of the game, Memphis scored 0.93 points per. The Thunder offense was just as telling: with Thabo, 1.06 points per possession; without Thabo, 0.81 points per possession.
Thabo did not have a good shooting series — 2-of-10 from 3-point range. His shooting touch was all all series. I suppose he missed Russell Westbrook just like everyone else. But in Game 5, good things happened with Thabo on the court.
* The Thunder did a good job on Mike Conley, who still had 11 assists. Conley made just five of 18 shots. But missed shots are not a bad thing for Memphis. The Grizzlies commit few turnovers, and they rebound a bunch of their own misses. So just getting off a shot is not a bad thing.
* Just as magically as Derek Fisher’s shooting touch appeared, it disappeared. Fish saved the Thunder’s bacon against Houston and early against Memphis. In the first two games against the Grizzlies, Fisher made six of eight 3-pointers. In the last three games, he was 5-of-20, and one of the makes was actually a clanger that bounced off but given a reprieve when Tony Allen tossed that shirt onto the court.
Fisher played 31 minutes in Game 5. He played 39 seconds more than did Kevin Martin. He played almost 12 minutes more than did Thabo. Fisher’s court time didn’t hurt the Thunder. He had the second-best plus/minus of the night; Thabo was plus-10, Fisher was plus-six. But going forward, you have to think the Thunder needs to cut Fisher’s playing time or its ties altogether. Love the guy, but he can’t be playing 31 minutes in a must-win game.