Share “Thunder-Grizzlies: Lax defense has OKC...”

Thunder-Grizzlies: Lax defense has OKC sitting on the brink of a massive disappointment

COMMENTARY — It’s the start — not the finish — of Game 5 that sends the Oklahoma City Thunder to Memphis on Thursday trailing 3-2 and on the brink of elimination. And it starts with the Thunder’s inexplicable soft defense.
by Berry Tramel Published: April 30, 2014


photo - Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (0) reacts in the fourth quarter during Game 5 in the first round of the NBA playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, April 29, 2014. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (0) reacts in the fourth quarter during Game 5 in the first round of the NBA playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, April 29, 2014. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

Thunder-Memphis is a series so riveting, so wild, so dramatic, that even when it was over, it wasn’t over.

Speaking of over, the Thunder season sits on the edge of Grizzly Mountain. The Thunder lost to Memphis 100-99 in overtime Tuesday night – yes, an NBA record fourth straight overtime in this series – and now must win Thursday night in Tennessee and Saturday back in Oklahoma, else over the cliff go the Thunder, and this season falls into the pit of massive disappointment.

And over it will be if the Thunder plays like this. The Thunder inexplicably went soft on defense for far too many stretches, and that will get you beat against Memphis, because the Grizzlies never wilt on defense.

At the final buzzer of overtime, Serge Ibaka sank a follow shot of a desperate Kevin Durant heave, and for a moment you thought that magic dust had stayed with the Thunder. But replays clearly showed that the ball left Ibaka’s fingers a fraction of a second after the backboard lit up in red, and Memphis goes home with a 3-2 series lead and the belief it can close out the Thunder on the banks of the mighty Mississipp.

Anyone want to pick against the Griz? Tony Allen is in Kevin Durant’s head, Russell Westbrook is playing ferociously but not always wisely and the Thunder is giving Memphis just enough good shots to stay ahead of the posse.

“We have to turn this page as quick as we can and put all of our energy, intensity and focus into the next game,” said Scotty Brooks. “We still have an opportunity to go there and continue to fight. We won the last game we played there, so we know we can win on their court.  Guys are going to keep fighting. Couple breaks here or there could have changed the game.”

Some defense in the first half would have changed it more than a couple of breaks.

Hard to understand how the Thunder could come into the most important game of the season and play such lax defense early. Brooks called a timeout less than three minutes into the game, but Memphis wasn’t slowed. The Grizzlies had 30 points in the first quarter, 25 more in the second quarter and 66 total just 4:05 into the second half.

An example of the Thunder’s softness: Memphis had just three first-half turnovers and the Thunder committed just six first-half fouls. A total lack of aggression on the part of OKC in what could prove to be the season’s defining game.

“We gotta impose our will from the beginning of the game,” Durant said. “We’ve got to be locked in defensively. We gave up too many points to start the game … I liked our offense tonight. We could have made more shots, but I like the way it moved a little bit. But defensively we have to be way better. We gotta guard all their movements. We gotta guard all their 3-point shooters when they come in the game and rebound the basketball.”

Continue reading this story on the...

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
+ show more


Trending Now


AROUND THE WEB

  1. 1
    Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith out with a lacerated spleen
  2. 2
    Marcus Smart returning to Celtics starting lineup
  3. 3
    Why you got so few Christmas cards this year
  4. 4
    EXCLUSIVE: MH370 will 'NEVER be found' as 'there's no sensible theory to where it is'
  5. 5
    Passenger tossed after flipping out over staff's 'Merry Christmas'
+ show more