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

Give Durant the edge over Brooks in how they saw the game. Foreman Scotty in postgame kept talking about offense, not scoring the basketball, but Memphis isn’t giving in. Marc Gasol isn’t going to get out of the way, and Allen isn’t going to stop haunting Durant, and every Grizzly this side of Gentle Ben isn’t going to stop converging on Westbrook’s drives.

Like always, the Thunder was not deterred by dire straits. OKC made up a 20-point deficit and did it less than nine minutes of game action. But after a barrage of 3-pointers helped the Thunder take a 79-78 lead with 6:45 left in regulation, OKC never led again.

Memphis scored on five of six possessions to retake command, and the Thunder was playing uphill the rest of the way. Caron Butler’s four-point play (OKC is 0-3 in this series when it has a four-point play in the final three minutes) helped keep the Thunder alive, and Westbrook’s steal and dunk with four seconds left sent the game to overtime.

But Memphis controlled overtime, right up to Ibaka’s ill-fated follow shot. And now the Thunder is on the edge of that cliff.

Westbrook keeps saying this series is “first to four,” and he’s right. “We’ve won there (Memphis) before. We know what we need to do to win the game. We just gotta come out and play our game. Come out and impose our will.”

Imposing will is just talk. Playing determined defense is action. The latter is all that will save this Thunder season as it sits on the brink.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at . He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.


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,...
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