The Oklahoma City Thunder were crushed on the road by the Memphis Grizzlies, 114-80. In a game that went from bad to worse as events regressed, the game was all but decided when Russell Westbrook was ejected midway through the 3rd quarter after arguing a call:
Thunder's Russell Westbrook ejected after back-to-back technical fouls for arguing call pic.twitter.com/vyxlwFErVp— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) December 30, 2016
Westbrook left the game with a total of 21 points, 5 rebounds but shockingly, zero assists. For Westbrook not to record a single assist through 2.5 quarters tells you essentially everything you need to know about this game.
The team’s struggles in the Grind House were nearly universal, as they struggled to either slow down Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph inside and outside, or generate anything resembling a coherent offense. Which is not to say that it was simply a bad night; that’s what we saw vs the Blazers and Jazz. What this was, was a clinic put on by a superior team that knows how to take away things with their defense, and that is perhaps the most valuable lesson to take away from this shellacking. The Grizz took away the things that OKC likes to do, and the Thunder had no counter-measures to stay in the game. As a result, they started grasping instead of finding a new plan, and that plays right into Memphis’ hands, leading to a humbling defeat.
Enes Kanter was the lone bright spot, recording 19 points and 5 rebounds in 24 minutes. What was truly surprising however was his Stache Bro compadre Steven Adams, who struggled like we have seldom seen him struggle before. He finished an abysmal 6 points on 1-9 shooting and missed half his free throw attempts. He repeatedly was stuffed at the rim, as the Grizz defense was consistently ready for all of his moves and counter-moves. His 15 boards were more reflective of how many shots OKC missed than anything else.
Is there a positive to take away from this? Sure. We’ve seen this before in some measure, and that was with a much better Thunder team. Memphis simply doesn’t play the way any other team plays, and if they get in your heads early, they can bury you with their defense much like the Warriors can with their offense (and what happened earlier this year when the Grizz defense met that Warriors offense?). Past Thunder teams have run into it and gotten embarrassed a little bit by it, but recovered and eventually figured out how to be better. This team, essentially missing its starting backcourt and backup PG, will learn as well. Games like this have a history of making OKC better.
That said, here is the brutal reality - OKC is not on the same level as Memphis right now, despite a slightly better record. Where Memphis is, is a place OKC should aspire to be. But they’re not there yet.
- Lots of guys getting frustrated. Like, the entire starting 5. The bench kept their cool reasonably well in the 3rd, but in the end they had no ability to produce points.
- 9 total assists on the night. That stat essentially tells the entire story.
- The non-Westbrook starters finished with 12 total points.
- Meanwhile, I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but Memphis looks like a legitimate dark horse. The Clippers are paper tigers (as always) and the Spurs’ back court will eventually get exposed. Could the Grizz be the only true foil left in the West? They at least have the right components on paper - stifling defense, brutal inside game, superior rebounding, and now, apparently solid perimeter scoring.
- Gasol is Gasol, but Randolph surprised me tonight. That’s the best I’ve seen him play in 3-4 years.
- Are the Grizz good 3-point shooters now? This is weird. They shot 13-22 on the night, and the 4th quarter was the Troy Daniels show, as the backup guard shot 6-8 from 3-point range.
- That defense though. I’ve been a fan of it since 2010. They have a wholistic idea of how to shut down teams and have been doing it for nearly a decade. They take away one thing, then another thing, then another. Then Tony Allen starts getting breakaway layups, Gasol starts doing his billionaire strut (which I will always enjoy), some random little dude starts popping 3’s, and you just want to grab a hot toddy and grandma’s old quilted blanket and go to sleep alone on the sofa.
It’s only one game. It was a test, to be sure, but it is one game. New Years offers an opportunity to undo it; OKC best not waste that opportunity as 2016 draws to a close.