MEMPHIS — For two days, the Thunder talked about one thing more than anything else.
Having a sense of urgency.
After losing Game 2 and home-court advantage, that catchphrase became a bit of a rallying cry, an in-house recipe the Thunder wanted to use to regain control of this dogfight of a first-round series.
But when the ball was thrown up for Game 3 against Memphis on Thursday, it took Oklahoma City 40 minutes to really put that mentality on display.
And yet somehow, it almost worked.
The Thunder dug itself out of a 17-point, fourth-quarter hole but again saw the game slip away in overtime, this time 98-95 inside FedExForum.
Sure enough, after the Thunder sunk deeper in this series, that familiar refrain resurfaced.
“We just have to be better next game,” said Kevin Durant. “We’re down 2-1 and we don’t want to go into a bigger hole than that. So we got to come out and play with a little bit more of a sense of urgency.”
Game 3 is Saturday night back inside FedExForum.
“A lot of positives,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks of the defeat. “One of the positives is we’ve been here before. Matter of fact, we’ve been here before with this Grizzlies team.”
In the second round of the 2011 playoffs, the Thunder fell into a 2-1 series hole against the Grizzlies but tied the series with a thrilling triple-overtime win in Game 4 at Memphis. OKC ultimately advanced in seven.
Who knows how this slugfest will shake out three years later?
But what we do know is the Grizzlies are doing everything we thought they would in this series and seizing command by catching OKC off guard with even more that nobody saw coming.
Memphis again shut down the Thunder’s offense, hounding Durant and Russell Westbrook into inefficient shooting nights and holding OKC to 39.1 percent shooting. It’s the second straight game that the high-powered Thunder offense has been held to less than a 40-percent clip. But offense, we figured would be tough.
The Grizzlies’ role players outplaying the Thunder’s is another thing.
Tony Allen again appeared at times to be the most impactful player on the floor by supplying a steady dose of solid defense and an unexpected source of offense. His 16 points off the bench were seven more than the Thunder’s reserves had combined.
“He’s played well,” Brooks said. “We have to be able to guard all the guys. That’s what we take pride in, guarding guys.”
Another surprising trend has been the Grizzlies outplaying the Thunder in late-game situations. Twice in this series Memphis has sealed victories with poise and precision on offense and an ability to continue to make smart, sound decisions in the face of late Thunder rallies. It’s been the more experienced Thunder that has looked out of sorts in those stretches.
Nothing looked worse Thursday than the Thunder’s offense once again dissolving into a two-man show of Durant and Westbrook. When shots wouldn’t fall early — the Thunder was held to 36 points on 14-for-38 shooting in the first half — the All-Star duo took it upon itself to bail out OKC in the second. The end result was one isolation and ill-advised shot after another.
Durant and Westbrook went 19-for-53 from the field.
They combined to dish just five assists. The Thunder had only 13 as a team.
Brooks pointed to missed shots leading to the lack of assists, but everyone else on the Thunder’s roster combined for a 15-for-34 shooting clip (44.1 percent). That included a dismal 2-for-14 rate by Reggie Jackson and Caron Butler. It indicated the role players were ready. They just didn’t get enough chances.
“We always can be better,” Durant said. “We missed shots tonight. That’s how you get assists, if you make shots. I wouldn’t say we were just coming down shooting every time. We were aggressive. But we have to do a better job of getting guys easier shots. That falls on us two. Everything falls on us two. So we have to be better. We own up to it. We got to get guys involved.”
With the Thunder trailing by three with 36 seconds remaining, Westbrook rebounded a Zach Randolph miss and darted the other way. But he ultimately settled for a potential game-tying 3-pointer. Thabo Sefolosha rebounded the miss and fired back out to Durant, who quickly jacked another bomb, this one from 29 feet.
Both shots told the story of how the Thunder played hero ball instead of trusting teammates and making the right play.
On Westbrook’s heave, Serge Ibaka, the only other Thunder player in double digits with 12 points on 6-for-10 shooting, was wide open underneath the basket.
Westbrook was 4-for-13 from 3-point range.
Durant was 0-for-8.
“We didn’t play the smartest down the stretch,” said Thunder center Kendrick Perkins.
And that, for the second straight game, became another familiar refrain.