The Oklahoma City Thunder dropped their 3rd game in a row, losing at home to the west-leading Memphis Grizzlies, 91-89. In a game that pulled at all of our emotions, the Thunder looked down and out against the Grizz, who now stand at 6-0. Falling behind by 16 in the second half, and going against the league's best defense, it was debatable whether OKC would have enough offense to catch up in time.
Behind the shooting of Serge Ibaka (16 points, 4-7 on 3's), Reggie Jackson (22 points, 4-7 on 3's) and Jeremy Lamb who had returned from injury (17 points), OKC actually caught up and took a 2 point lead with under a minute remaining. Unfortunately, Mike Conley answered with his own 3-pointer, and the Thunder could not convert on their final 3 possessions.
The game was both encouraging and discouraging. It was good because OKC played the Grizzlies very tough and refused to give in against a superb defense, but disappointing because with the exception of the Nets loss, all of their losses this season have come from 4th quarter collapses. Sooner or later they are going to need to win one of these types of games to stay afloat.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
As we have repeatedly said in this space and most recently on the Phil Naessens Show, these two teams, the Thunder and Grizzlies, are destined to always play close games. Neither team can seem to run away from the other one, despite which players are available. They know each other too well, in part because they seem to have played about 50 times over the past 3-4 seasons.
Despite the loss, there are some good things to take away from this game, even though OKC is a western bottom dweller and the pressure is mounting.
1) Reggie Jackson - I do believe that part of his general moroseness had to do with the fact that he wasn't playing, and so he was allowing his deeper meditations on his place in the NBA to supersede his dedication to his team. However, as these past two games have shown, he wants to be in the ring, and of course this Grizz team is the same one where he had his coming out party in the playoffs. Even though he missed a shot in the end that could have given his team a potential win, the fact that he has hung in and fought throughout tells me that now that he's back on the court, his focus will be on playing for his team and not for his next contract.
Also, I found this interesting from Daily Thunder:
Jackson was kind of weird in the locker room postgame. He was ready to talk but Sebastian Telfair was still speaking with some reporters. Jackson saw it and said he'd hold on because "he didn't want to steal his teammate's shine." Then after he finished talking, he lingered in his chair for a long time talking off the record with some media, then he got up and tapped Collison and gave him some encouragement. Jackson is obviously trying to take on a more active leadership role, but it seemed a little, I don't know, forced.
You know what? It probably is forced. But that is ok. The reason it is ok is because everyone who aspires to be a leader has to learn how to lead, and they have to go through an awkward stage where they act in an unnatural way that stretches them beyond where they are at present. We saw Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook go through the same steps. Jackson wants to lead, so he is challenging himself to practice leadership. This is a good thing.
2) Jeremy Lamb - Yes, he's still mostly clueless on defense and he Lambo'd a few 3-point attempts, but he played a solid 41 minutes and shot a strong 7-9 on non-3-point attempts. He has good offensive talent, and his defensive deficiencies can be hidden.
3) Steven Adams - We know he lives for these kinds of physical games, right? He finished with a very strong double at 13-11 while only committing 3 fouls, but it was especially his work in the low post that helped keep the Thunder in the game. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol only scored 24 points combined on the night, shooting 10-27 and only getting to the free throw line 4 times. His work in the paint turned the Grizz primarily into a perimeter team, but unfortunately for the Thunder, this is also how they ended up losing.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder lost?
All the Thunder can hope to do in these games is try to put themselves in a 4th quarter position to win. They did this against the Clippers, where Serge Ibaka missed a game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer. They did it again against the Grizzlies, taking a 2 point lead ever so briefly.
Unfortunately, with a handful of chances to win in the end, Jackson missed a 4 footer, and then with just under 7 seconds to play and the Thunder trailing by 1, Nick Collison failed to inbound the ball. There isn't much more that could be done. They had put themselves in a position to steal a win and the ball was in the hands of one of their trusted veterans, and they didn't get it done.
The final sequence was a good play set for Ibaka to spring to the top of the key for a 3-point attempt, similar to what we have seen previously this season. Unfortunately, he was a bit deeper than he normally sets up for his shot, and also Ibaka doesn't yet have the playmaking chops to see how Gasol had slid off his man Adams in order to contest, and Adams was wide open under the rim with 2 seconds to play as the shot went up.
Maybe next time. Let's hope there is a next time that matters.
Thunder Wonder: Reggie Jackson, 22 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists
Thunder Down Under: Steven Adams, 13 points, 11 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 assists
Thunder Blunder: Nick Collison's 5 second call
Thunder Plunderer: Mike Conley, 20 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 3-point dagger
Next game: vs Sacramento Kings on Sunday, Nov. 9 at 6PM CDT