If I’m Scott Brooks, I’m telling my team to avoid making a push to the No. 1 seed at all costs. Because Oklahoma City doesn’t want to see the Grizzlies in a seven-game series.
Luckily, that’s not realistic because OKC isn’t catching San Antonio. But with the way Memphis is playing — and without Rudy Gay, mind you — there absolutely is a chance of the Grizzlies climbing to No. 5 in the West. And I bet that’s something that keeps Brooks up at night.
For whatever reason, the Thunder just has a lot, and I mean a lot, of trouble with the Grizzlies. OKC went 1-3 against the Grizzlies this season, two of those with the Grizzlies being shorthanded without Gay. Dating back a couple years, the Thunder and Grizzlies have now played 12 straight games decided by single digits or in overtime. There’s not a lot separating these two teams.
Monday, with both teams coming off a game the night before, the Grizzlies took down the Thunder 107-101 behind 20 points each from Mike Conley and Tony Allen. (In the four games, Allen, who is averaging 7.6 points per game on the season, is averaging 18.7 ppg against OKC. Everyone is confused by this.)
The Thunder was done in by an old vice as Memphis piled up 15 offensive rebounds, with Shane Battier (Shane Battier!) grabbing five. OKC just kind of had a glazed look for a lot of the game as it dropped behind by 17 in the second half before four consecutive 3-pointers by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (three by Durant) got the Thunder back in the game. From there, it was a scrap, but OKC could only tie the game once as Memphis always seemed to keep an arm out and the Thunder away.
With the way it turned out, it’s hard not to wonder why OKC went small for most of the second half, exchanging Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison out at center. Nazr Mohammed saw just 13 minutes and Cole Aldrich who was incredibly effective in the first half, saw only five. It’s not that Durant had trouble playing the 4, because he really did a nice job there, but the rest of the team suffered. Daequan Cook, who was playing small forward was abused, on the glass. Same with Thabo. Matching up inside with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol is difficult to start with, and again, Durant did a nice job, but it really offset the rest of the floor.
Brooks likes the small lineup because he tries to mismatch on the other end. Because Memphis wants Allen or Battier covering Durant, that means that Gasol or Randolph has to cover Cook or Sefolosha. That makes sense in theory, but it just isn’t always practical. Reason being because it doesn’t really seem like the Thunder offense is capable of cashing in on those mismatches. With the way the OKC offense is structured, moving the ball to those two players with scoring opportunities doesn’t really exist. So again, it makes sense and I understand why to do it, and it’s worked in some situations (against the Hornets comes immediately to mind) but it failed OKC in this one.
Memphis won this game because of their work on the offensive glass and because they turned it over just seven times. Coming in, everyone knew it would be tough to win in Memphis. The Grizzlies are really good and are a tough matchup for OKC to start with. Plus, Tony Allen always turns into Allen Iverson every time OKC plays Memphis. And the Thunder was a little worn from the draining game the night before. All easy excuses to make for a game that OKC really probably should’ve won. But it’s not like the other team isn’t trying to win too. They want it just as bad. And in the Grizzlies’ case, it was equally important, if not more.
- One other thought about the small lineup: I continue to be curious about if this will change when Kendrick Perkins is healthy. Will Perkins just get Collison’s minutes? Or will Brooks go small and sit Perkins for big stretches in the fourth?
- Speaking of, Perkins was really into it tonight. He was up off the bench for like 97 percent of the game, shouting and cheering on the Thunder. And since there was only like 45 people at the game, you could even hear him hollering out stuff. Kinda cool.
- Just a horrible effort on the glass, especially in the third and early fourth quarters. And Jeff Green isn’t even here to blame it on.
- Russell Westbrook was out of control for pretty much the entire game. He had four first half turnovers (finished with five total) but was just recklessly attacking with no rhyme or reason. He ended up playing a solid game (27 points, seven assists, four rebounds) because he’s Russell Westbrook and that’s what he does.
- Westbrook really needs to chill a bit on talking to the officials after every play. It’s getting to the point where he’s looking for a call on every drive. I’m sure he’s getting fouled, but sometimes, you just don’t get calls.
- Speaking of, how many times did KD get fouled tonight with no call? He shot just five free throws, three of them coming off a rip move in the first quarter. I can think of two jumpers where Tony Allen got Durant good on the arm — both in the fourth quarter — with no call. Durant hasn’t scored the ball that well lately, but this was a game where he gets to his average easily if he gets his normal number of free throws.
- OKC went 6-18 from 3, with all six 3s coming in the second half.
- Here’s something I don’t get: With OKC down six as time was running out and in desperate need of 3-pointers, why is Thabo in and not marksman Daequan Cook?
- Heck, here’s something I don’t get either: Why did Thabo get 25 minutes? He was kind of horrible in this one in general.
- Maybe my favorite play of the night was when Collison and Aldrich set three awesome screens on Tony Allen, with the last one decking Allen. I got a kick out of that.
- After picking up a foul because he was holding Durant, Tony Allen actually put his hands behind his back and used his body to defend Durant off the ball. It was kind of impressive. Having Battier and Allen to take turns defending Durant really isn’t fair.
- Harden played another great game (7-11, 16 points) but had two really bad turnovers in the last four minutes. One he threw straight to Randolph on a break and the other was just a careless pass that led to two Memphis points.
- It’s hard not to be excited about the prospect of Serge Ibaka starting 82 games next year. He’s quietly putting up really nice numbers for a power forward. Tonight it was 14 points, six rebounds and three blocks.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night: “I’m not really a fan of plus/minus, but…” I just liked this one because he immediately slammed plus/minus but then used it to illustrate how well Cole Aldrich is playing. It’s probably one of those stats where he only likes it when it tells him want he wants to hear.
A bummer to drop this one because there was an opportunity to rip off a little streak here, but looking at the schedule, this was the one real big roadblock over the next couple weeks. Again, beating the Grizzlies isn’t an easy thing. Especially on the road (Memphis is 22-9 at home). They’re a tough match for OKC and on top of it, they’re pretty darn good. They kind of remind me of last season’s Thunder a bit. I know I wouldn’t want to see them in the opening round of the playoffs.
Next up: At Philadelphia Wednesday.