Reggie Jackson was the savior. But defense keyed the Thunder’s win on Saturday night in Memphis.
It’s tough to win a game when Kevin Durant goes 5-of-21 shooting.
It’s even tougher when his running mate, Russell Westbrook, also fires up an inefficient 6-of-24 line.
But it’s made a whole lot easier when the Grizzlies are held to 52 points in the first three quarters, 80 in regulation and 89 in an overtime game.
Thunder 92, Grizzlies 89, and a knotted up series heading back to Oklahoma City thanks to Jackson’s career-high 32 points and a huge lift from the defense.
The inspired effort started early on for the Thunder, with amped-up intensity and communication. Memphis was stonewalled in the post and ineffective on the perimeter, scoring 18 points in the first quarter and only 17 in the next two.
“That’s a direct result from maximum effort on the defensive end,” Scott Brooks said of the win.
The floodgates opened a bit in the fourth, with Memphis outscoring the Thunder 28-16 to tie it up. Mike Conley and the Grizzlies perimeter players started to find seems and create plays, but the Thunder shored up those issues enough to secure an overtime win.
Perhaps the biggest sign of the Thunder’s defensive dominance shined through in Zach Randolph’s final line. The All-Star big man finished 5-of-14 from the field and sat frustrated on the bench in some of the game’s key moments.
He has struggled throughout the series. But on Saturday, he wasn’t alone.
No Grizzlies player shot 50 percent or better, with Courtney Lee going 3-of-10 and Conley going 5-of-16, including a miss on a potential game-tying three in the final seconds.
And now it’s a toss-up.
OKC heads back home in a lighter mood, with the series tied at two and the general feeling that its two stars won’t struggle as mightily as they did Saturday night.
“Going into the series, we knew every game is going to be a close game the way that they play,” Brooks said. “They want to take a lot of time off the clock. We knew going into the series it was going to be a very difficult series.”
The third overtime was the charm for Oklahoma City on Saturday night, with a huge lift from Jackson and an important performance from the defense.