Omit the fourth quarter, and this game was a simple blowout as the Oklahoma City Thunder looked to have an easy win over the Memphis Grizzlies at home. Kevin Durant put out a robust 37 points on 12-of-24 shooting and 10-of-10 free throw shooting. The Grizzlies were led by Mike Miller with 19 points in 20 minutes off of the bench, though most of those points came in the fourth.
The first quarter started off as a very tight game, with both teams finding success and making mistakes at the same time. The Thunder slowly built up a small lead over the last six minutes and carried that momentum on through the second and third quarters where they often looked to be playing much harder than the Grizzlies. Their lead went as high as 19 points in the third, but the fourth quarter was a very different story. Miller led a valiant comeback effort with all 19 of his points coming in the fourth, including four threes (one a four-point play from 28 feet out!). The rest of the Grizzlies bench played their part in the comeback, but their effort proved in vain as the Thunder were just out of reach when the final buzzer sounded.
What is your initial reaction to the result?
The Thunder looked dominant through three quarters, then kind of fizzled out in the fourth. It was kind of weird, but hey, you'll take a win any way it comes, especially after the week the Thunder have been having. Steven Adams was questionable coming into the game (flu symptoms), and though he ultimately played and gave the Thunder 25 good minutes, the likely unsung hero of this game was Hasheem Thabeet. Yes, actually! Thabeet was one of the most active players in the second quarter when Brooks played his substitutes, and despite lackluster statistics, was one of the leaders in the Thunder's airtight interior defense tonight.
In fact, I'd argue every single Thunder player played well tonight (or at least wasn't a negative). Thabo Sefolosha departed with a left calf strain after four minutes and in his absence, everybody stepped it up. Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka led the way on both ends on the floor as they do, and they were supported by that strong paint defense I mentioned earlier as well as energetic play from the second unit.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?
You could point out a bunch of things, but I'll point out the Thunder's interior defense. The Grizzlies run their offense through Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in the post. They also run a lot of pick-and-rolls to get Mike Conley or their bigs into the paint with some momentum behind them. It results in a lot of scoring around the paint and inside-out play.
Tonight, there was none of that. Ibaka, Adams, Thabeet, and Nick Collison shut down the paint, offering very little to the Grizzlies' post players or dribble penetration. Mike Conley, relegated to mostly jumpshots, shot 1-for-10 to score 6 points. Despite heavy usage, Zach Randolph didn't score his first field goal until 7:47 remaining in the first half and shot 5-of-14 overall for 12 points. Marc Gasol was constantly pushed around down low, and though he shot a very efficient 7-for-10 in the game, his scoring came in bursts rather than as a consistent option for the Grizzlies. In fact, a lot of what kept the Grizzlies from being down by more was actually Tayshaun Prince making open jumpshots that the Thunder gladly ceded to him.
Things broke down a little in the fourth quarter when Mike Miller's hot shooting sent the Thunder's defense into a bit of a panic (again), and it seemed the Thunder let their foot off the gas in the second half overall. James Johnson constantly found a lane to the rim, and the second half was when both Kosta Koufos and Gasol looked their best. Still, it was a dominant effort for much of the game and kept the Thunder ahead by a high enough score for long enough that even though the Grizzlies had brought their field goal percentage up to a very pretty 51.3% by the end of the game, they simply ran out of time to top the Thunder. Even though they surrendered a high field goal percentage in the box score, the Thunder defense did their job well tonight.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
The Thunder held a 15-9 offensive rebounding advantage over the Grizzlies, one of the NBA's top rebounding teams. Randolph and Gasol weren't only stumped on offense, but also on the boards as the Thunder bigs were active and gritty in fighting them for rebounds. Let's count the total: Ibaka had five, Adams had four, Collison and Thabeet both had two, and Sefolosha and Lamb each picked one up. For the Grizzlies, it was a bunch of random perimeter players with one offensive board to go with one for Koufos and four for Randolph.
This is all another example of the Thunder bigs imposing their will upon the Grizzlies' bigs tonight. The Grizzlies might've been able to bring their field goal percentage back up to a final figure higher than the Thunder's own while also matching them in threes, but what they couldn't match the Thunder in was the number of offensive opportunities they took. Offensive rebounding might've been the reason why the Thunder kept ahead as the game clock winded down and the Grizzlies found a chance to tie or win the game just out of reach.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
The Thunder snap their three-game losing streak and turn around their poor defensive performance of late into one that looked much better for most of the game. Hopefully, the upward trend continues and they don't offer up 50% shooting in the next one.
Sefolosha's injury status is presumably day-to-day, and it'd be nice if he didn't miss any time given that the Thunder are also trying to accommodate Kendrick Perkins' injury and the odd effect it has on their rotation (Brooks pulled Thabeet out on us!). If Thabo does miss time, the recent signing of Caron Butler becomes all the more interesting as he could see significant playing time right from the get-go.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant - 37 points (12/24 field goal shooting, 3/8 three-point shooting, 10/10 field goal shooting), 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 1 block
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka - 16 points (7/11 field goal shooting), 9 rebounds (5 offensive), 3 blocks
Thunder Blunder: Jeremy Lamb - 3 points (1/5 field goal shooting), 2 turnovers in 11 minutes
Thunder Plunderer: Mike Miller - 19 points (7/9 field goal shooting, 4/5 three-point shooting), a four-point play in 20 minutes
Next game: vs Charlotte Bobcats on Sunday, March 2 at 6PM CDT