Tonight, we saw a fairly slow game without all of the excitement of a playoff series. Interior defense reigned king, with lots of fouls on both sides. At times, the game opened up, but for the most part it was a grindfest. Nevertheless, the Thunder held on for the win, getting some great late scores from Durant.
This game opened with tremendous defense on the part of the Thunder. For nearly 8 minutes, the Grizzlies were held without a field goal. And they weren't shooting jumpers, either. They were routinely shut down on fast breaks, and their layups were made as difficult as possible. But, this amount of defense can generate problems, one of them being foul trouble. Both Collison and Perkins picked up two fouls, allowing Aldrich to gain some playing time. As soon as he entered the game, the Grizzlies went on a 9-0 run. It wasn't really his fault that this happened, as his defense was adequate and the Grizzlies were getting points from the perimeter. But his performance in the late first and early second wasn't overly impressive, as he missed a couple of obtainable rebounds and he was nowhere to be found offensively.
But the real story of the late first and early second was James Harden, who basically ran the offense during that period. He found ways to call plays for himself, penetrate the lane, make excellent passes, and basically embarrass the Grizzlies defense. After gaining an 11 point lead, the Thunder got into a back and forth game. They took perhaps a few too many bad shots early in the shot clock, but they still found ways to score and get to the line.
Eventually, the Thunder's bad attempts just got to be too much. Every play seemed to result in a wonky three or long jumper, while the Grizzlies kept getting to the line and increasing our foul woes. Because of our foul woes, the Thunder were playing some really weak defense inside. In addition, the Thunder were giving up a lot of offensive rebounds to the Grizzlies, giving them way too many second chance opportunities.
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In laments terms, the game basically turned into NBA JAM. There was a lot of back and forth scoring at the rim, with both teams hoping to avoid getting into foul trouble. The Thunder held a steady advantage throughout the second, but the Grizzlies eventually saw the pendulum swing in their favor, and they took the lead halfway through the third, 61-60.
Beyond that point in the third, the Thunder had a slight advantage because they could consistently get to the line. But the Grizzlies immediately recovered in the fourth. They got out in transition and were aided by a double lane violation during a free throw. One tip off and Randolph jumper later, the Grizzlies were ahead 76-74. Their lead was short lived, as the Thunder started to rain down threes, going on a 14-1 run. They took a 12 point lead while the Grizzlies just kept missing really routine-looking shots.
The game was far from over. The Thunder's late offense leaves a lot to be desired, and coming off of the next timeout, they stagnated again. But this time, they were stagnating while actually involving everybody. KD missed a technical FT. Westbrook's mid-range shooting woes continued. Ibaka still hasn't found his offensive confidence. The Grizzlies started to go back to their old playoff ways, pounding it inside and getting key offensive boards. By the two and a half minute mark, the Thunder's lead had dwindled down to three. And a minute and a half later, Rudy Gay hit an open jumper to dwindle the Thunder's lead down to two.
But the Grizzlies made one crucial late-game mistake: They didn't double-team Kevin Durant. Durant got a nearly open Nowitzki like jumper at the top of the key. Ibaka blocked Rudy Gay in the lane on the next possession, and that was all she wrote.
One of the unsung heroes for Memphis tonight had to be Jeremy Pargo. Pargo was extremely adept at hitting tough shots, like his brother was for the old Oklahoma City Hornets. This was an unprecedented source of offense for the Grizzlies, and it was semi-reliable. But, most importantly, he was really good at keeping Westbrook out of the lane and forcing him into tough shots. Westbrook's jumper hasn't been very reliable lately, and that trend continued tonight.
For the Thunder, James Harden was easily the deciding factor. On a night where Russell Westbrook was unquestionably struggling from the field, Harden was basically able to function as his own point guard. He called picks where he needed them, and was even able to set up other scores off of his plays when the going got rough. Basically, he carried us through the second and third quarters.
The Thunder go to an unprecedented 3-0 and continue to sit atop the Western Conference with this win. They travel home to face Dallas tonight. The Grizzlies fall to 0-2, are tied for last in the West, and will face also winless Houston tonight at home.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 32 Points, 8 Rebounds, 3 Assists
Thunder Down Under: James Harden, 20 Points, 7 Rebounds, 2 Assists
Thunder Blunder: Russell Westbrook, 0 Field Goals
Thunder Plunderer: Zach Randolph, 24 Points, 12 Rebounds
Next Game: Versus the Dallas Mavericks, Thursday, December 29th, 7 PM Central Standard Time