It’s almost a good thing this game went into overtime. Instead of Oklahoma City winning this one 100-98 and totally crapping the bed down the stretch to leave a bad taste in everybody’s mouth, the game went an extra five and the Thunder played incredibly well closing out Memphis 114-102.
After Memphis (11-33) went on a 12-2 run the last four minutes of the game to send it to OT, the Grizzlies scored the first bucket of the extra frame, but OKC (11-35) responded with 14 unanswered to close out on a high-note, sending everybody home happy.
Kevin Durant was absolute superstar, top-five-in-the-league material in overtime. Not that he’s not all the time, but he was other-worldly in the extra frame. He scored eight of OKC’s 14 in the period, had one mega-block and made multiple winning plays. His 21-foot jumper to tie the game at 102-102 sent kind of a “We’re alright” feeling over the team. He was electric in the first quarter scoring 16. He cooled, scoring just two in the second. But he was extremely efficient in the second half and in overtime, finishing with 35 on 14-23 shooting with 10 boards, six assists and four blocks. But he’s not an All-Star. Nah. No way. News flash NBA: Kevin Durant is freaking good at basketball.
All in all, it winds up being win No. 11 and what we all thought should happen. Maybe the path to it isn’t what we wanted or expected, but I’ll take it. So many things could have gone differently to have locked this one away with four minutes left and wound up being a 10-point margin, but so many things could have gone differently to have blown this one too. First, free throw shooting. I blame myself. The Thunder went 18-29 from the line (61 percent) and missed multiple free throws that could have sealed the deal. Second, OKC got outrebounded 12-4 in the fourth quarter. That shouldn’t happen. Third, the Thunder just didn’t execute down the stretch. With 45 seconds left and a four-point lead, the Thunder had the ball and instead of working a good shot, Earl Watson took a fadeaway with seven seconds left on the shot clock. I don’t know why either. This is just estimating, but in the last three minutes, I think the offense ran through KD just one time – the play he turned it over with about 20 seconds left. I’m no NBA coach or brilliant basketball mind, but how about running things through The Best Player instead of Earl Watson hoisting no-chance jumpers with the game on the line? Just a thought.
But play this game back in November and this is a six-point loss and we all go home really peeved. These guys have learned to win. The Grizzlies took all the momentum in the world with them into overtime, but OKC snuffed it out and dominated. I really think the Thunder got up 10, looked at the scoreboard, said, “We got this” and relaxed. I don’t think they realize that they can’t do that. They have to close. Quit getting fancy. Quit taking quick shots. Execute and finish. But while they didn’t finish the first 48, the did the last five. And that’s really encouraging.
After the first quarter, I was worried. Memphis scored 37 points on 16-20 shooting and OKC looked flatter than a week old beer. I couldn’t decide if it was just really good shooting by the Grizzlies or bad defense by the Thunder. Whatever the case, OKC tightened up. In the second, the Thunder gave up just 20 points and then just 14 in the third. Then the Grizzlies ripped off 29 in the fourth. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Memphis went on its run after Desmond Mason went out with a hyper-extended knee. O.J. Mayo had just 11 and was shooting poorly, but after Mason left the game, the Grizzlies went on that run with Mayo scoring eight straight on his own. Hopefully Dez is OK, because he adds so much intensity and leadership on the court that he’s really inexpendable (did I just make that word up? I think so).
Chucky Atkins made an early appearance, playing his first legitimate minutes in a Thunder uniform. I really don’t know why he got Kyle Weaver’s minutes, but maybe Weaver’s knee injury is a little more bothersome than he led on (he bumped knees in practice this week and it’s bruised). But Atkins gave good energy grabbing a steal and knocking down two open threes. And besides Atkins, the bench was really good tonight. The rotation was just nine, but Chris Wilcox played some really energetic minutes, Nenad Krstic was hitting jumpers early and protecting the rim late and other than some poor decision making late, Watson was pretty good with five assists and just one turn. The bench tonight combined for a +/- total of +40.
The big three were again excellent with KD having a huge night, Russell Westbrook chipping in 16 and five assists while only turning it over twice and Jeff Green shooting the lights out scoring 23. But more than his dead-eye shooting, one play by Green really impressed me. As the third quarter ticked out, the ball swung to Green at the top of the key with about four seconds left. He was 5-6 from three and was wide open between the circles, but chose to pump, take two dribbles and knock down a 12-footer. A very mature play.
Even with the poor rebounding fourth, OKC still had 47 boards to Memphis’ 38, including five more on the offensive end. Guys like Nick Collison are to credit there. He works so hard and never gives up on any play. Even possessions where Memphis secured the rebound, Collison was getting a finger on it, tipping it in the air and working for the board. I really, really like what Collison adds. He’s the ultimate Glue Guy – he works hard every possession, is smart, says all the right things and I’ve never seen him argue with an official.
Two random observations: 1) I hope Marc Gasol stays in Memphis for his entire career. He looks like an actual Grizzly. I couldn’t get over that tonight. 2) For the Brian Davis Watch, his two new favorite sayings are “down by a stick man” and “coming right into your lazy boy.” He’s so clever. And something that’s been happening lately is these little mid-game debates between him and Grant Long. Listening to those two discuss and disagree with each other is like watching nine straight hours of Around the Horn with only Jay Mariotti and Bill Plaschke as guests. In other words, I’m diving for my remote to hit mute next time I hear Davis say, “I’ve got to disagree with you there partner.”
Again, this was a good “bad” win for the Thunder. My, how far we’ve come. A month ago, I never thought I’d be even slightly unhappy with a win. I thought if they could just have one more point than the other guy, no matter how they got it, I’d be psyched. But now that’s not the case anymore I guess. We want wins and we want you to look good doing it. Ah, heck forget that. Just win.
OKC’s on another two-game roll (how awesome is that?) and will take its winning streak to Utah to take on a surely perturbed Jazz team Friday night. Utah’s missing two starters and is definitely vulnerable, so about how three-in-a-row?