I had the pleasure of attending the OKC Thunder game against the Memphis Grizzlies, and it didn’t disappoint. Being in the arena during games always offers a different perspective to watching via broadcast.
While I’ve never been to a playoff game, this game felt like it had playoff level intensity down the stretch. Perhaps that’s because Memphis has been a frequent opponent of the Thunder, or because we finally were having a home game that meant something and wasn’t a blowout for the first time in what feels like forever. But the crowd was standing for the last 4 or 5 minutes of this game, and the MVP chants for Russell Westbrook were the best of the season. For games I’ve attended, this ranks right there with the Houston game when Russ posterized Clint Capela to seal the deal for most entertaining victories.
To be entirely honest, much of the second half felt like the Thunder were giving away a game that they had no business losing. Even though Memphis is a formidable opponent, this game felt like the Thunder was the better team for much of the night, but they simply could not get out of their own way. Russ is a marvel though, and literally beat Memphis by himself down the stretch to pull this one out.
- One of my absolute favorite parts of attending games is getting to watch the players warm up. I feel like the different approaches players take to preparing before a game gives insight to their varied personalities. Some guys sort of wander around the court, taking practice shots (Kyle Singler, Cameron Payne). Others have super strict regimens with timing down to the second (Russ). Some know their craft and focus purely on getting into the groove (Anthony Morrow). Then you have the guys who are enjoying trying to get loose before the game (Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, Andre Roberson).
- This first quarter felt eerily like some of the past games. The defense was solid, but no fouls were being called and OKC simply could not put the ball in the basket. It should be pretty telling that, after one quarter, Andre Roberson led the Thunder with 6 points.
- Speaking of Dre, he got back to doing what he does best on offense, and that was moving without the ball. If defenses aren’t going to guard you, you have to make sure that you are still doing something to help the team. By drawing their focus and making them account for where you are on the floor, you’re making it harder for them to defend as effectively. He hit some really nicely timed cuts in the first quarter (they were there later in the game, too, but he didn’t always get the pass) that prevented the defense from completely ignoring him.
- Steven Adams had what felt like a very quiet game, but was massive inside. With teams packing the paint, he and Russ are having to adjust the delivery point on PnR exchanges, and it means that he’s dunking it less and taking little 10 foot push shots more. That shot has gotten to be very reliable for him, and it prevents the defense from being able to sit so far back in the paint.
- He also had 11 offensive rebounds, most of which I don’t even remember. I think I’ve started taking him for granted in that regard, because I sort of expect him to disrupt every single rebound attempt. Even the ones he isn’t gather, he still tends to pop the ball loose or force the opponent to really protect the ball. I can assure you, this is both mentally and physically wearing for the opponent.
- Oladipo had a bit of a stinker of a game, but I never really felt like he was forcing things, except for on a couple of shot attempts late. I think I’d like it if he would be more decisive about getting into his mid-range shots though. He can tend to hesitate, particularly after using a screen, and it gives his defender time to catch up.
- Joffrey Lauvergne and Morrow finally had some good offensive games. It’s difficult to play them because of the defensive end, but tonight they more than made up for it with their shot making. More on this in a moment.
- Was anyone else as irrationally excited to watch the vintage battle of Nick Collison and Zach Randolph as I was? We’ve seen those two go at it for so many years now, and it is still so exciting to watch. Collison is so brilliant about angles, timing, and the flow of both a defense and offense. I really think he should play more this season, despite being an old man.
- That being said, the Oklahoma Blood Bank would probably prefer he doesn’t play anymore.
- Cameron Payne should use his floater more. It’s pretty nice.
- One thing that seems to limit Payne is how he sets up for his jumpshot. He tends to take a pretty hard angle on his shot rather than squaring up. Unfortunately, this makes it harder to get into while on the move, particularly if he’s moving to the left. I’m not sure there is anything you can do about that at this point.
- This game had more goal tends... I counted at least 4, though one of those got called back as a foul on the floor, I think.
- The Payne-Oladipo-Westbrook group actually kind of worked tonight, though I’m not convinced it wasn’t a fluke. I still hate it with a passion.
- Donovan used the lineups of Russ-Payne-Dipo/Morrow-Joffrey-Adams for extended periods tonight. That has to be one of the worst grouping of defensive players (besides Adams) ever, right? And yet, despite having a favorable matchup at 3 of 5 positions, the Grizz continually went at Adams with Gasol instead. Cameron Payne was guarding Conley, and they went at Adams. I don’t understand.
- Marc Gasol is a very good player. What’s interesting, though, is that he was super passive from outside this game. He’s at 40% from 3 on the season (45% in the last 10 games) but turned down several open looks. The box score claims he shot 4, but I don’t remember any of them.
- Chandler Parsons has the flattest shot of any NBA player ever.
- Tony Allen is always fun (or hilarious) to watch. Open layups are always exciting with that guy.
- JaMychal Green’s name confuses me, since Jeff Green used to play for Memphis.
- Troy Daniels, I notice you aren’t shooting early shot clock 3s when you aren’t up 30 in garbage time. Oh wait, that’s because you can’t get on the floor.
- Tonight was mascot night. Mascot night is the best night. Rumble dunked over the blimp that they use to drop prizes around the arena (using a trampoline, but it was still impressive). The best part, though, is when the giant inflatable mascots come out. I’m not sure what is so entertaining about them, but it made the breaks go soooo much faster.
- Alright, I’m in the last bit of this. That means it’s RUSS TIME! He outscored Memphis 15-0 in the last 2:30 minutes of this one. By himself. He shot dagger 3s, FTs, forced layups to go in (that physics complained shouldn’t have). I literally cannot articulate how insane this guy is to watch.
- If he had managed to mash that dunk after the steal at the end, the ‘Peake would have collapsed, our New Zealand friends would have felt the ensuing earthquakes, and the end of time would have arrived. Really, though, the entire crowd sucked in air as he ran up to the basket, ready to let out a roar that perhaps would have equaled that of Russ’ had he dunked it instead of trying the reverse layup.
- I just realized I haven’t really talked about defense much. There were some things I noticed (particularly about help defense), but I’m not sure I could describe it without images. Perhaps, if I can find time, I’ll put together a thing about that. In the meantime, I’ll drop this video here. I stumbled across it last night, and found it to be a very interesting watch.