Seems it's always something whenever the Thunder and Grizzlies go at it.
Even when there shouldn't be.
Kevin Durant scored a game-high 27 points to lead Oklahoma City to a 106-89 win over Memphis on Thursday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. But even a 17-point win somehow was filled with drama, both on the court and on the sideline in the second half.
At least this time, as far as we know, no players met by the bus.
But when the Thunder built a 25-point first-half lead, it seemed certain OKC would overpower a short-handed Grizzlies squad playing its first game in the post-Rudy Gay era.
Russell Westbrook had a mini-meltdown early in the third quarter, which included a brief but colorful argument with teammate Thabo Sefolosha, an ensuing benching and a never-before-seen, in-game storm-off into the tunnel to blow off steam.
The Grizzlies promptly peeled off a 20-10 run, cutting the Thunder's lead to 10 in the final minute of the quarter before threatening to mount a comeback and complete what would have been their second win against the Thunder in as many trips to OKC.
When it was all said and done, the Thunder chose to downplay the sideshow and focus on the sound victory, perhaps a much-needed one following a 3-3 road trip that had the Thunder away from its home confines since Jan. 16.
“We had three days off, and we were very excited to play after losing our last game,” said Durant. “The guys came out to play.”
The Thunder held the Grizzlies to 34.7 percent shooting, largely behind a dominant first half in which OKC constructed a 58-34 lead at the break. It was one of the Thunder's most complete opening halves of the year. Oklahoma City shot 61.1 percent and held Memphis to 26 percent shooting, a season-low for the Grizzlies in a half.
“I thought that was a very good defense game for us,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “It was a good win. With that being said, they obviously just made a trade so they don't have all of their newly acquired players. But it was a good win.”
Most impressive was how OKC shut down Memphis' inside tandem of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, annually two of the biggest thorns for the Thunder.
Randolph and Gasol combined to score just six points on 2-for-15 shooting in the first half and finished with only 25 points on a combined 32 shots. Randolph started 0-for-9 from the field and didn't score his first point until knocking down a free throw with 7:54 remaining in the third following a Kevin Durant technical foul — Durant's eighth of the season.
It brought the Grizzlies within 20.
Randolph's first field goal came 30 seconds later.
Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison tag-teamed and took Randolph out of the game with a physical brand of defense for which the Grizzlies' All-Star forward had no answer. Both bodied up on Randolph, cutting off his airspace and not allowing him to take his time making decisions while working from the high post. Whenever he did get a shot off, Randolph was forced to hoist it over the hands of either Ibaka or Collison.
“They played hard,” said Sefolosha. “Every time we do that as a team we're good. Those guys have played him a bunch of times, so I think they know how to play them.”
Randolph did have 12 rebounds before intermission, six on the offensive end. But he couldn't convert any of his second chances into scores. It plagued the Grizzlies all half, as they converted on just two of 13 second-chance opportunities. Randolph finished with a game-high 19 rebounds, including nine on the offensive end, or five more than the Thunder had as a team.
Aside from the silliness on the sidelines, it was the Thunder's lone cause for concern.
“I don't know how many he ended up with, but he had a lot of them,” Brooks said. “Other than that, I thought our defense was solid. To keep a team in the 30s (field goal shooting percentage) is outstanding defense.”