The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Memphis Grizzlies, 112-94, to record their 25th win of the season. Kevin Durant, widely expected to sit out tonight's game, was a surprise starter, making a quick recovery from the sprained toe he sustained two games ago against the Hornets. Despite Durant struggling from the floor in the first half, his presence on the court paid immediate dividends as the Thunder were able to capitalize on their star's presence. Coupled with the Grizzlies' shooting woes, the Thunder took a 20 point lead into halftime and scarcely had to look back.
The Thunder were led by Durant, who despite starting slowly, finished the game with a game-high 26 points on 9-18 shooting to go along with 17 rebounds and 3 assists. Russell Westbrook, who finished the game with 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists, fueled the early charge against Memphis, repeatedly taking advantage of the lack of Mike Conley from the Grizzlies' starting lineup. The bench, still rounding into form, struggled for parts of the 2nd half, but were ultimately able to hold on to the lead to get the big win.
The Grizzlies were led by backup PG Mario Chalmers, who finished with 23 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
The Thunder and Grizzlies have faced each other approximately 100 times since I started watching OKC, so we all know exactly what Memphis is going to try and do on a nightly basis. Yes, they'll try to mix in some Courtney Lee shooting and a little bit of Jeff Green-ishness, but at the end of the day, their offensive scheme is rooted around Marc Gasol's ability to operate from the high post and Mike Conley's ability to get into the lane.
The latter issue was solved because Conley did not suit up due to an achilles injury, and the former was solved because of the Funaki. Steven Adams, criminally hindered against the Kings by way of foul trouble, played about as well defensively against the All-Star Gasol as anyone I have seen. Adams did not give an inch to Gasol's spin or up-and-under moves, never let him sneak in for weak side offensive rebounds, and by mid-way through the 3rd quarter rendered Gasol inert on his way to a 2-11 shooting night.
Without Gasol playing anywhere close to effective, the Grizzlies had little shot to win. All OKC needed to do was to play to their capabilities, which they did. Westbrook started things out, and in the 2nd half, Durant answered the bell any time things got too close.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?
Forgive me if I oversimplify things a bit, but this game essentially came down to...Mike Conley. Over the years, Conley is the only consistent playmaker against OKC that can give the Grizzlies a strategic advantage. If Conley is making his 3's and getting into the lane, Memphis has a shot to win. If he isn't, or isn't even playing, unless something goes really wrong for OKC, the win becomes formulaic.
- Steven Adams, man. Against the best bigs in the game, if the refs allow him to play, he is erasing them because he has both the strength and the footwork to shut them down.
And bonus - nothing like a little Magic Funaki serving up the tasty dish for the play of the game.
- Durant got off to the slow start, shooting only 2-10 in the 1st half. However, unlike in his more passive mode, KD picked up his own game by taking care of the little things. He tallied 17 rebounds on the night, including 4 on the offensive end, a place where he's usually silent. By getting these easy put-back opportunities, KD was able to find the shooting touch and hit nearly ever dagger he needed to keep Memphis sitting on the porch.
- Anthony Morrow is shooting 42% from 3-point range, and yet we probably all feel like he's struggling a bit. Great spot-up 3-point shooters need to know where and when their shots are going to come, because it feeds their ability to capitalize on their dedicated repetitive nature. It does seem like Morrow is starting to get a better feel for his spots, but he's not quite there yet.
- Cameron Payne has had a fun little honeymoon in the NBA, but tonight he got his first glimpse as to what playoff-tested defenses can do to a rookie who is seeing everything for the first time. His final numbers were solid: 8 points, 3 assists, only 1 turnover; but for much of the night he was confounded by Memphis' perimeter defense. I have little doubt that Payne will figure it out; he knows how to direct the ball at the rim. But for tonight, he received some lessons on how smart defenses play.
- Dion Waiters had a solid bounce-back game after struggling for the past few weeks. As the ESPN commentators pointed out, without Gasol in the line-up, Memphis had no shot blockers at the rim. Waiters smartly attacked this weakness by getting 3 of his 6 made shots at the rim, scoring a total 15 points on 6-9 shooting.
- Speaking of a dearth of Grizzlies shot-blockers, Enes Kanter's performance was a bit disappointing. Whenever Kanter goes against front lines that can't protect the rim, he usually has his way with them. However, whether it was by design or by lack of awareness, there were far too few pick and roll opportunities for Kanter, and he only managed 9 points on 3-8 shooting from the floor. Call it garbage time if you will, but these are the types of games where Kanter is important because his ability to score lots of points against 2nd stringers should lead to OKC's starters getting much needed breathers. Kanter didn't quite get it done tonight.
A final note and a word on my favorite color commentator, Hubie Brown. He's been around the NBA so long that he's been a coach and a commentator twice over, and if you're a younger fan, was the head coach for one of Memphis' better teams in their history. You want to get a sense as to how good a coach Hubie was? Take a look at this playoff roster, which featured a Gasol at center. Yeah, the other one.
Anyways, I just wanted to write that Hubie is a delight to listen to, and I will be sad when he decides to hang up the microphone, if that makes any sense. He has a wonderful way of making you feel like you and your team are better than they are, and trust me, that isn't simple flattery. That is an entirely different kind of empathy embedded in respect for simple dignity. Both of my own grandfathers have passed, but if I could, I'd gladly rent Hubie for a weekend to talk to me about basketball, fly fishing, bourbon, 16th century maps, bocce ball, or anything else he wanted to discuss.
But definitely bourbon. That would be awesome. And I'm sipping 1776 right now, thanks for asking.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, who started the party right
Thunder Down Under: Kevin Durant, who shuts down the parties like nobody's business
Thunder Blunder: Enes Kanter, who went to the wrong house for the party
Thunder Plunderer: Mario Chalmers, whom nobody want to invite to the party, so he stayed in and partied by himself
Next game: @ Los Angeles Lakers on Friday, Jan. 8th, at 9:30PM CDT
bonus - your playlist for the evening