The Thunder played a pristine game – dominating from start to finish in a must-win situation. And the grades reflect that domination.
New lineup: A. Scotty Brooks made a strategic starting lineup change for the first time in more than three years, inserting Caron Butler for Thabo Sefolosha. And it worked famously. At the time of OKC’s first substitution, 9:26 into the game, the Thunder led 19-14. Then to start the second half, Brooks stayed with the starters the first 9:37 of the third quarter, and OKC outscored Memphis 19-16. Sacrificing defense for offense worked out. In those 19 minutes, Memphis scored 30 points and made 15 of 37 shots. That’s right. The Grizzlies had zero foul shots against the Thunder starting unit.
Basket protection: A. Thunder fans have seen glimpses of Steven Adams’ potential throughout the season, but America saw it in Game 6. Adams had five blocked shots, including three in the fourth quarter to squelch any hopes of a Memphis comeback. And Serge Ibaka, despite limited opportunities on offense, had four blocked shots. Durant and Reggie Jackson each had one, giving the Thunder 11 for the game, the fourth time in the series OKC has had double-digit blocks.
Perimeter defense: A. The Memphis perimeter players have had their moments in this series. Not in Game 6. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol were efficient, combining for 33 points on 13-of-27 shooting. But Mike Conley, Courtney Lee, Tayshaun Prince, Beno Udrih and Mike Miller combined to make just eight of 32 shots. James Johnson gave Memphis a lift off the bench but still made just four of 11 shots. All without OKC’s best perimeter defender, Sefolosha, even stepping on the court.
Memphis fans: B. Despite bordering on a blowout all game long, the Griz fans stayed engaged and tried to will a comeback. “Ref you suck!” was a constant refrain, knocking Memphis down a little on the class scale. But the group of three Elvis impersonators sitting behind the Thunder’s second half basket was a nice touch.
Small ball: A. Brooks has found something that works: a lineup that uses only one interior player, with Durant guarding 7-foot-1 Marc Gasol. Brooks went to the lineup midway through the second quarter, and over a span of 6:38, the Thunder outscored Memphis 22-11. Gasol got loose for five points during that stretch, but the Thunder made the Grizzlies pay on the other end, scoring those 22 points in 13 possessions. During that spree, the Thunder made nine of 12 shots, including seven straight. And the Thunder didn’t even need Durant’s scoring – those 22 points came from Russell Westbrook (eight), Ibaka (six), Jackson (five) and Butler (three). In the fourth quarter, Brooks went small, and the Thunder played the Grizzlies even, nursing a 21-point lead.
National anthem: B. As a tribute to former Griz owner Michael Heisley, who died last week, the Grizzlies used a video of Heisley singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Heisley could sing a little. Alas, the audio didn’t start soon enough, so the first few words of the song were silent.
Handling Allen: B. Durant asserted himself against Tony Allen, whose defense has dominated much of this series. Durant had just four points in the first half while sharing the court with Allen but warmed up in the second half. In the 26:52 that Allen was on the court with Durant, KD made six of 13 shots and nine of 10 foul shots for 21 points. Allen actually was a bigger influence offensively, finishing with 13 points.
Tempo: A. The Thunder got the pace going to their liking. Durant and Westbrook had some runouts off Memphis turnovers, and the Thunder outscored the Grizzlies 17-5 in transition. That always helps against Memphis.