I’m starting to think that the Thunder are a second half team.
This game was a carbon copy of the last game against the Bulls. The Thunder were trailing by as much as 24 points against the Grizzlies tonight and this looked like a blowout lost as late as near the end of the third quarter.
OKC was trailing 68-59 at the half due to a hot barrage of threes from Memphis (8-16 from long range), a team that is in the bottom third when it comes to threes. The Grizzlies couldn’t miss anything from deep.
The third quarter saw the Grizzlies balloon their lead even further. The opposition was leading 95-74 with 4:18 left in the third.
And then the Thunder outscored the Grizzlies 52-27 the rest of the way.
Suddenly, the threes that the Grizzlies were making early on started to miss and the Thunder started to gain more confidence and gain momentum. The Grizzlies only shot 2-10 (20.0%) from three in the second half. The Thunder finished the final 4:18 of the third quarter on a 19-5 run and they smelled blood in the fourth quarter, where they outscored the Grizzlies 33-22.
The main reason why OKC was able orchestrate this comeback was how well the Thunder were on offense. They finished with 126 points on 54.8 FG% and 25 team assists. OKC had six double digit scorers tonight. The Thunder only went 7-24 (29.2%) from three yet scored that many points on high efficiency. Which tells me they did most of their damage in the paint and in free throws. And yep it looks like that what the case, 85 of their 126 points came from those two facets alone.
Dennis Schroder had another fantastic game off the bench. Schroder finished with 31 points on 10-19 shooting with seven assists. His performance was lessened via seven turnovers but had a team high 28.2 NRTG and +/- of +19.
Schroder had a really bad turnover late in the game with 28.9 secs left with OKC having a 122-120 lead. Jae Crowder stole the ball as Schroder lost control of his dribble which lead to the Grizzlies getting two opportunities to score on the other end. Luckily the Thunder escaped any repercussions and Schroder redeemed himself by swishing in two free throws that expanded their lead to four afterwards. But still, can’t have dumb turnovers that late in games and Schroder knew that too as he patted his chest as a way to say ‘my bad.’
In a battle of young guards who will be looked to carry the franchise’s future, the Grizzlies’ young prodigy outplayed the Thunder’s. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had a quiet but efficient 20 point game. But Ja Morant was the better of the two tonight, scoring 22 points on 9-16 shooting with seven assists and five rebounds. Morant looks like the real deal and should easily be the Rookie of the Year candidate — his play style and athleticism reminds me a lot of a certain #0 who used to play here. Which is not surprising considering Morant said he grew up idolizing Westbrook.
Danilo Gallinari also had a good and efficient game, scoring 20 points on 7-15 shooting. Steven Adams was great too — he finished with 13 points on 6-7 shooting and had 10 rebounds and five assists. Adams getting multiple assists a game are becoming more of a norm this season as the Thunder are using him more as a passing big than they have in previous seasons.
Chris Paul was having a quiet game the first three quarters with just nine points and three assists. Paul duplicated that production in the fourth quarter alone with nine points on 3-3 shooting with two assists. Paul has shown to play passive and let the other players carry the load but will step up and take the shots if the team needs him to. Tonight was another example of that.
Shout out to Nerlens Noel who had a good game off the bench with 10 points on 4-6 shooting in just 18 minutes.
Many Thunder fans were upset on draft night when the Thunder drafted a young and raw Darius Bazley over a more pro ready prospect in Brandon Clarke and tonight was the first game the two faced off. To those fans’ credit, Clarke has by far been the better player this season, averaging 12.7 PPG on a league leading 70.1 TS%. Even if Clarke was seen as a more finished product who was league ready, this is still a very impressive start for a 23 year old’s rookie season who landed 21st overall.
For Bazley, he is averaging just 3.7 PPG on 36.6 FG% as a 19 year old. It’s a good philosophical basketball debate when it comes to rebuilding terms. Would you rather draft an older player whose ceiling isn’t high but his floor is, or take a gamble with a younger player with a ton of raw talent who has a higher ceiling but a lower floor? The Thunder and Grizzlies both took different approaches with this. It is noteworthy that the Thunder still had Russell Westbrook and Paul George on draft night, so them choosing the long term project over immediate help is puzzling, especially for a team that at the time was cap strapped and couldn’t financially afford to get much help. So it would make sense to draft the rookie who would be able to contribute from Day One, right? But then again there were reports coming out that the Thunder were already looking to blow it up, so who knows.
But back to tonight’s game. Clarke had his best game of the season with a career high 27 points on 13-19 shooting. Clarke single handedly kept the Grizzlies in the game in the fourth quarter by scoring 14 points on 7-9 shooting with most of those makes coming around the rim on second chance opportunities, Clarke grabbed four offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter alone. Bazley only played 11 minutes but finished with four blocks, a crazy block rate. The one play that caught my eye with Bazley came in the third quarter where Terrance Ferguson, who was in the left corner, kicked the ball out to Bazley in the left wing and instead of settling for a three, he pump faked and drove to the basket and got an uncontested layup out of it. That’s some great court awareness for a 19 year old rookie who barely plays.
This was a great win, but as Billy Donovan noted in the post game, winning games like this is unsustainable. You can’t be a 24 minute team — you have to be a 48 minute team. These last two games have been great and fun to watch but their outlier results. OKC has to start games off better if they truly want to be a playoff team like Dennis Schroder alluded to in the post game.