What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
Thank goodness I didn't give up at the end of the third quarter. Through the first 36 minutes of tonight's game, every indication was that the Grizzlies were playing the superior basketball. They were rebounding better, playing defense better, and running a more fluid offense. Seven different Memphis players had at least one assist. Meanwhile, the Thunder offense looked incredibly stagnant, often pushing the ball into the middle of the lane only to either have the ball swiped or the shot blocked. Most troubling though was that it wasn't even a sense that OKC was having an off-night; it was more the fact that Memphis was outplaying them in every regard.
Memphis has built its basketball style around team-oriented basketball. For better or worse, the Thunder have built their identity around the superior play of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. For three quarters, Memphis' style worked. In the 4th quarter, the Thunder's players transcended everything that the Grizz had accomplished.
What was tonight's turning point?
The Thunder trailed for most of the game. Every time they put a run together, Memphis was ready to return volley and push the lead back up to six to eight points. However, the tide finally turned when James harden entered the game with just over five minutes to go in the 3rd quarter. Over the next nine minutes, Harden scored 14 points which included two huge 3-point shots. Harden's second 3-pointer tied the game at 81. When that final shot found the bottom of the net, the Grizzlies watched their lead vanish forever.
What was, overall, the main reason the Thunder won?
The Thunder persevered through three mediocre quarters and kept the game within striking distance, despite looking like the inferior team for most of that time. They knew that they had the three impact players who could carry the Thunder over the precipice, but they had to stay in the game long enough for an opportunity to arise. When the moment finally came, Durant, Westbrook, and Harden all hit crucial shots that propelled the Thunder to the win.
Also, special props to Daequan Cook, who once again stepped in nicely for Thabo Sefolosha. While Cook did not shoot the ball especially well tonight, he did hit a big jump shot in the 4th quarter that gave OKC a three point lead. More importantly though, Cook again played good defense from the shooting guard position. He finished the game with three blocks and also grabbed seven rebounds. Cook is demonstrating that he has additional skill sets that will help out the Thunder well as they await Sefolosha's return.
What's the key statistic to understanding tonight's game?
The Thunder played their best overall basketball in the 4th quarter. Kevin Durant, having scored 20 points through 3 quarters, erupted for another 16 in the 4th, including the game's final seven. Overall, the Thunder scored 32 points in the 4th while holding the Grizzlies to only 17. The team is slowly but surely learning how to play effectively in the ends of games and hold onto leads. In this game, OKC scored 15 points in the final five minutes, an accomplishment that was often painfully lacking a season ago.
What does this game mean for the Thunder today and moving forward?
The Thunder have now officially 'won' the season series against the Grizzlies, having taken the first three games. It gives OKC a greater psychological advantage over the resilient Grizzlies, and it is another step down the road in learning how to play a complete basketball game.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 36 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks, 2 steals
Thunder Down Under: Daequan Cook, 5 points, 7 rebounds (2 offensive), 3 blocks
Thunder Blunder: Kendrick Perkins, 5 points, 1 rebound
Thunder Plunderer: Marc Gasol, 24 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal
Next Game: At the San Antonio Spurs, Saturday February 4, 7:30 PM Central Standard Time