Despite a 40 point performance from Russell Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder have fallen to the Memphis Grizzlies, 114-122. It was a hard fought game throughout, and the Thunder held the lead as late as the fourth quarter. But the Grizzlies were just too much from three, hitting 70% of their 16 attempts from beyond the arc. New acquisition Mario Chalmers was particularly instrumental in Memphis win, scoring 29 points against the Thunder's bench.
Obviously, the Thunder were missing their leading scorer, Kevin Durant. But another starter, the defensively focused Andre Roberson, was out tonight as well. Roberson had the flu. This left a huge hole in the middle of the Thunder's lineup. To compensate, Anthony Morrow and Kyle Singler began the game as starters. Waiters got his usual minutes, and rookie point guard Cameron Payne got the first signficant minutes of his career while playing out of position.
The Grizzly bench wasted no time exploiting Cameron Payne, D.J. Augustin, and Enes Kanter in mismatches on the perimeter and in the post. Aside from the strong presence of 35 year old Nick Collison and the so-so presence of Dion Waiters, the Thunder's bench had little defensive ability.
Why did the Thunder lose this game?
I don't blame turnovers, despite the fact that the Thunder had 19. In fact, the Thunder did a good job of getting back on defense, and only gave up 6 points directly on turnovers. Really, the Thunder's offense was superb overall. 50% from the field, 41% from three, and 31 trips to the line is what every team should strive for. 114 points should be good enough to win on most nights.
But OKC's defense just wasn't there tonight, particularly during the fourth quarter. Part of this was due to some smart subbing from Memphis' Coach Joerger. Zach Randolph only shot 2 of 10 during the third, so Joerger decided to sit ZBo for the duration of the fourth. The more athletic JaMychal Green got time in Randolph's place. Green didn't produce a lot of stats, but his presence as a jumpshooter spaced the Thunder's defenders more effectively. This allowed Mike Conley and Mario Chalmers to get to the rim. Ultimately, JaMychal Green would hit the game winning three that put his team up 6 with 46 seconds to go. It was JaMychal's only field goal of the game.
I also think the Thunder just did a poor job with their pick and roll defense in general. As a team, OKC would always switch around screens and allow for mismatches. This allowed the Grizz bigs to use their size to get easy shots, and allowed the grizz guards to get easy shots around screens. Also, I've really gotta give it up to Pau Gasol. Gasol did a decent job of getting outside shots against Adams, and used his body to get big and score inside against Kanter. Gasol finished with 17 points on 54% shooting, with 6 assists and 4 turnovers. That's pretty decent, considering Zach Randolph was shut down by Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka all day. Randolph would finish with 12 points on 25% shooting.
- Dion Waiters was actually pretty good at creating his own shots tonight. The majority of Waiters' points were unassisted, as he did a good job working the weak side. But I felt like when Waiters became the focus of the offense, things fell apart for him. Waiters can use a screen to get to the rim or shoot, but he's terrible at making a decision about what to do. Indecisiveness seemed to kill Dion at other times, as he fumbled a few easy passes. Honestly, even if Waiters was a bit better offensively, it wouldn't have turned the tide of this game. But I do wish Waiters would trust Augustin and Payne to get him the ball in the right spot.
- Russell Westbrook made five threes tonight, and took eight. I normally think that's too many threes for Westbrook, but not tonight. The Grizz simply weren't picking up Westbrook in transition, and Westbrook took whatever open threes he could get. All five made threes came from 25 feet or more, and none of the threes were assisted upon. In fact, only one of Westbrook's 13 field goals came off of an assist. When Westbrook runs the offense, he's completely in the driver's seat. Westbrook was effective tonight because of ridiculous shooting, but how long can he carry everything on his own?
- Enes Kanter gives up what he gets against a team like Memphis. Still, I admire Kanters 3 of 3 mark shooting outside the paint. The Grizzly bigs are so slow that I'm okay with Kanter shooting from distance against them.
- With four minutes to go in the third quarter, Dave Jaeger had Jeff Green defend Russell Westbrook, instead of Mike Conley. Westbrook responded by scoring on four straight possessions. During the first, second, and fourth, Westbrook had Tony Allen guarding him most of the time. This meant Westbrook would go to his perimeter game much more often, as Allen was strong in the post. The Grizzlies would also occasionally switch on Westbrook around screens, which is what allowed him to be so successful from three.
- During the off-season, Matt Barnes stated that he would fight Serge Ibaka right now, given the opportunity. Barnes cited Ibaka's attitude as the reason. Ibaka assured Barnes on Twitter that the feeling was mutual. Later during the off-season, Barnes literally physically attacked former Thunder guard Derek Fisher. It was because Fisher had allegedly dated Barnes' ex-wife. No charges were filed. Luckily, nothing came of the bad blood between Barnes and Ibaka tonight. Whew.
- The Grizzlies had 14 second chance points on 12 offensive rebounds. The Thunder were big the whole time, aside from four minutes of Ibaka at center and Collison at power forward. So meh.
- Chalmers really gives the Grizzlies a whole new dimension on offense. Beno Udrih was old and slow, and couldn't do much other than hit shots around screens. But Chalmers is crafty and speedy. Tonight, Augustin and Payne simply couldn't stay in front of Chalmers legally. Meanwhile, Chalmers pushed the pace in transition, and surprised the Thunder defense by pulling up for a couple of critical fourth quarter threes.
- Kyle Singler was awful. I will say that Singler took his shots from the right spots, knew where to be on plays, and didn't turn it over. But 0-5 from the floor? 4 fouls in just 12 minutes? Comeon, man.
- Steven Adams fouled out in just 26 minutes of play. Not surprising given how physical this game was. After not taking a single attempt from the floor against the Celtics yesterday, Adams was 4-5 from the floor tonight, and 6-8 from the line. Awesome off the pick and roll, and did a good job of keeping Gasol out of the paint. But if Adams wants to become the closing big that we need, he's going to have to avoid those fouls. If Adams could have played more of the fourth quarter, this could have been an entirely different game.
- Hard to say a lot good about D.J. Augustin at this point. He had a decent stint in the first half, where he hit a couple of jumpers. But in five fourth quarter minutes, Augustin only managed to miss a off the dribble three and commit three fouls. Why can't this guy just initiate the offense, sometimes?
- I didn't notice Anthony Morrow at all tonight. He played 29 minutes and took four shots, which is less of an offensive output than Steven Adams. Why is this happening? Morrow needs to get more opportunities, especially given his team high +/- rating of + 9.
- The first significant points of Cameron Payne's career came off of this sick assist from Westbrook. Awesome end of quarter three, and the first of hopefully many points to come. Not sure how much I love Payne as a two guard, but I wouldn't mind seeing him overtake the backup PG position at some point.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, who continues to amaze night after night
Thunder Down Under: Nick Collison, who had one of his best defensive games in years
Thunder Plunderer: Mario Chalmers, free throw machine
Thunder Blunder: Kyle Singler, 0fer
Next Game: Versus the New Orleans Pelicans, Wednesday, November 18th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!