I really didn’t think there was any way the Thunder could win their 50th game (giving them a plus-27 win increase) and win it by nine, and it give me a slightly uneasy feeling.
Don’t get me wrong, this was what Oklahoma City needed. The Thunder snapped a two-game skid and a stretch they’d lost four of five by beating a quality Memphis squad 114-105, and did it by playing well in the last three minutes. Some momentum and some confidence has been built heading into the series with the Lakers. But the fact the Thunder struggled with some of the same issues that had gotten them into trouble this past week is what is bothersome. They gave up 56 points in the second half and executed poorly at times in late in the third and in the fourth. Again, they won. I’m happy. I’m actually thrilled. I mean, 50 wins! But if this game were an effort to right some of the wrongs from the last week, I think I’d give them a C-.
On that: I think one issue we’ve begun to see from OKC in games they have a comfortable lead, is that in the second half they go into the NBA equivalent of the prevent defense. They slow the offense down, dribble the 24 down to 13 or 14, pass twice and then chuck a jumper. The Thunder built these leads playing loose, playing free, running, cutting, sharing the ball and taking good looks when they got them. It’s when they take their foot off the gas that they get themselves into this weird offensive funks where everything turns to jumpshots. And the thing is, every NBA team goes through those spells. It’s teams like the Cavs, the Lakers, the Hornets and other squads with a star player that can get snapped out of the said funk because their star player makes some shots.
Now the last three minutes, OKC opened it up a bit and pumped the lead back into double-digits. The Thunder have got to find that balance of slow start, start up. That’s way easier said than done, but if on seven or eight straight possessions the slow down game isn’t working and you find yourself taking all 20-foot jumpers with three on the shot clock, maybe get back into that groove of looking for quality shots early and running the floor. Kevin Durant, who was stellar with 30 points on 12-18 shooting, hit two big shots for the Thunder in the fourth and made sure this thing didn’t get REALLY interesting. And Eric Maynor was absolutely excellent (15 points, 10 assists, five rebounds) and got the key playing time down the stretch simply because, he was doing a good job running the team.
The Thunder led by as many as 27 in the first half and was playing loose and fresh. Shots were dropping and it looked like it was going to be a full-on party in the Ford Center. But Memphis had something to play for and when the Thunder relaxed, the Grizzlies bit. Don’t get me wrong, I think this is what the Thunder needed. Most importantly, they won. They closed the game well after giving up a big lead. But the fact they went through some of the same ailments that have gotten them gave me just a slightly queasy feeling heading into the playoffs. That’s all.
- How about Serge Ibaka tonight? Good. Ness. He had 15 points, nine rebounds and a career-high five blocks. One of them, I thought he popped the basketball he spiked it so hard. And his fast break dunk nearly made me hurt myself I jumped up so fast.
- Kevin Durant put on a show in the first quarter. He dropped 14 in the quarter and showed off some handles with a slick between-the-legs, behind-the-back move and then a no-look dish to Jeff Green. Then he popped a step-back jumper. Then he bumped his head on the Ford Center ceiling rising up to block a Rudy Gay shot. AND THEN he nailed a fadeaway 3 to end the first. It was something else.
- I thought Scott Brooks did a solid job managing minutes tonight. KD played the most with 38. Jeff Green played 34, Russell Westbrook 25 and Thabo 27. The bench saw a lot of minutes with Maynor playing 29, James Harden 26 and Ibaka 32. I think he would’ve liked to given the starters a little less and guys like D.J. White and Byron Mullens a little more, but Memphis’ comeback screwed that up.
- Eric Maynor is absolute money at the buzzer. He did it against Duke and he continues to do it in the NBA. It’s impressive.
- KD finished the game 5-5 from the line meaning he shot 90 percent from the free throw line for the season. That’s unbelievable.
- Serge Ibaka and Etan Thomas played really well together in the first half. Thomas took on the opposing center on the block leaving Ibaka a chance to rove a bit, hence the four first half swats. But in the second half, Brooks didn’t play Thomas a second and instead went with Green-Ibaka for most of it. Ibaka had to play the five and while he did a solid job there and inside OKC didn’t get abused or anything, Ibaka wasn’t near the force anymore.
- Memphis turned it over just nine times tonight. That’s a big reason they stayed close.
- I have a Film Study coming on this soon, but boy, OKC’s transition defense needs some sharpening.
- I see no reason why Rudy Gay shouldn’t average 25 a game for the rest of his career. He’s got ability leaking out of his ears. It’s about playing for the full 48, all 82 games. But he should be a star. He’s got he talent.
- Jeff Green took eight 3 pointers tonight. Granted, he was open for most every one and he’s a good shooter, but when you finish as well as he does at the rim, I think it’s smart to put it on the floor every now and again, especially after you’ve missed five straight from deep.
- With the master Hubie Brown calling this game on ESPN, I’m curious as to if anyone out there watched the FSOK broadcast. That’s dedication to your hometown guys if you did.
What’s funny about this game is that the score never got closer than eight in the second half. Oklahoma City really had in it hand the whole way, but because of the way it went with Memphis going on a 27-10 run or whatever it was, I think we started having flashbacks. The Thunder played relatively well and I think got back to some basics. The first half saw some really solid rotations defensively and late in the fourth, OKC got stops, rebounds and executed on the offensive end. If this game would’ve been played at 8-12 point margin the whole way, I think we all walk out happy.
But the fact OKC got up big then went flat for a bit letting the Grizzlies back in it, is what gives us the sour taste. But no matter what, this is win No. 50 (!!!) and puts the Thunder on the winning side headed into the playoffs. I think I’m good with that.
Next up: PLAYOFFS BABY. PLAYOFFS.