The Thunder’s 120-109 Game 7 victory wasn’t pristine. It had stretches of hairy and exquisite play, and the grades reflect that:
Butler experiment: A. The Thunder’s new starting lineup, with Caron Butler replacing Thabo Sefolosha, spent just 9:14 on the floor together. But it was an effective 9:14. The Thunder had a 13-8 lead when Kendrick Perkins went out with his second foul less than four minutes into the game. And the Thunder outscored Memphis 17-9 in the third quarter before Brooks again replaced Perkins with Steven Adams. That’s a 30-17 advantage for the starting unit.
First quarter: F. The Thunder’s early focus was non-existent. Against a makeshift Memphis lineup, the Thunder in the first 111/2 minutes allowed 36 points, 60 percent shooting, 11 fast-break points and seven baskets at the rim. Scotty Brooks said the Thunder actually played decent defense, but seven turnovers helped Memphis score 11 fast-break points. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies committed their first turnover with 14.1 seconds left in the period. That kind of sluggish start may be OK on a January night in Phoenix, but not in a Game 7 against a limited offensive team missing its leading scorer.
3-point distribution: A. Yes, the Thunder shot great from 3-point range, 11 of 19. But tied in with that success is who was shooting. Russell Westbrook admitted after Game 7 he had been shooting too many treys. He shot just two Saturday night. Kevin Durant and Butler took five each. Derek Fisher and Reggie Jackson took three each. That’s the kind of distribution the Thunder needs.
Allen wrenching: B. Finally, Tony Allen wasn’t much of a factor. Durant found open shots all game long and nailed them, finishing with 33 points on 12-of-18 shooting. And Allen’s general pestiness never became a factor. He had zero steals and only two offensive rebounds. Allen did get loose for 15 points, seven of which came at the foul line.
Defending Gasol: B. The Thunder allowed Memphis center Marc Gasol to get off to a good start — 13 first-quarter points, on 6-of-8 shooting. Ironically, the Grizzlies’ loss of suspended power forward Zach Randolph put the Thunder’s interior defense out of sync. Serge Ibaka had to guard Allen, leaving Perkins to guard Gasol. Perk is much better suited to match up with Randolph. Gasol got loose for three quick baskets in the first four minutes. But in the third quarter, Gasol went 0-for-4 against Perkins. Gasol finished with 24 points but on 7-of-20 shooting. He played 41 minutes and seemed to tire.
Ball security: D. If the Thunder had taken care of the ball, it might have had a 30-point lead all game long. The Thunder shot 60.9 percent from the field; it made 10 of 18 shots in the first quarter but trailed 36-27 because of seven turnovers. OKC finished with 20 turnovers, including seven by Westbrook and five by Durant. After the first quarter, four of the Thunder’s 13 turnovers were illegal screens.
Small ball: A. Brooks’ first crack at his small-ball lineup did not work — Memphis outscored OKC 12-9 over the final 4:45 of the first quarter, with a lineup of Westbrook, Durant, Jackson, Adams and either Butler or Fisher. But the small lineup of Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Jackson and Butler ignited a 10-0 run that gave the Thunder a 44-44 tie in the second quarter. The small lineup was effective in the third quarter, outscoring the Grizz 16-13, then in the fourth quarter Brooks went small all 12 minutes, using a variety of lineups, and the Thunder spurted away.