You knew it wasn’t going to come easy. For a little while there, it looked like it just might. The Thunder revved up the offense and really appeared to be taking total control of the game, holding a 13-point lead with a few seconds to go before halftime.
Then Shane Battier hit a wild buzzer-beating 3. And then the Grizzlies poured it on the Thunder.
Oklahoma City held a 10-point lead at halftime, but Memphis carried over Battier’s 3 for a 9-0 run and held the Thunder to just 29 second half points. OKC just had no rhythm offensively. The defense was good enough to win. But scoring 29 in a half just doesn’t cut it. There’s a lot of blame to go around, but I’m actually putting this one on Scott Brooks. Here’s why: Not that Brooks would ever make an in-game adjustment, such as alter his second half starting five, but it was obvious that Lionel Hollins’ move of putting O.J. Mayo in the game and having him and Tony Allen defend Russell Westbrook while leaving Mike Conley on Thabo was working.
Now I’ve never really leaned either way on the “start Harden” debate, most of the time feeling fine as long as Harden got his 30 minutes. But here’s all the evidence you need, at least in this series. I understand why you stick with Thabo though — messing with what’s worked all season long is a bit dangerous. But at some point you’ve got to coach. You’ve got to see what Memphis is doing and react back. By leaving Thabo in the game to start the second half, Memphis immediately was able to stifle the Thunder’s offense by basically leaving it up entirely to Westbrook to make a play. Durant was shaded by Marc Gasol while Tony Allen guarded him. And Westbrook had Mayo on him while Thabo stood idly in the corner. It was a mistake. The same problem existed to start the game, but OKC survived. After the Grizzlies took the energy up a notch, the Thunder didn’t.
I’ll add this to it: In 16 minutes, Thabo was a -16. Harden was a plus for most of the game before Memphis pulled away late. That should say a lot.
That much is on Brooks. The fact Durant shot the ball just 3-14 and 1-9 from 3 isn’t on Brooks. That’s on KD. This was just a complete dud from him. He’s far better than this but after he picked up his second foul early on a ticky-tack charge call, Durant’s rhythm was seriously interrupted. He made his first two shots and had The Look there, but was forced to sit most of the first quarter after that second foul. You can debate whether or not KD should’ve stayed in because in hindsight, maybe things turn out different if he played through, but I don’t blame Brooks for pulling him there.
Reality is though, KD looked a bit disconnected. He didn’t fight off the ball near as much and really seemed to allow Battier and Allen’s physical play get to him. The Thunder survived as long as they did because Westbrook carried the load entirely (27 points on 11-22 shooting). Yep, Westbrook took eight more shots than Durant, but tonight, he should’ve taken 18 more. It was all him or nothing. Well, him and Harden. Harden was great in the first half with 12 points but was part of the struggle in the second, scoring just two the last 24 minutes.
I really don’t know how to sum up what went wrong offensively in the second half other than it was too many contested jumpers, not enough at the rim and a lot of standing around. The Thunder didn’t do near as well on Zach Randolph who scored 30 on 12-22 shooting, but again, it wasn’t so much that the Thunder defense fell apart, but more that OKC quit scoring. The Grizzlies got into a simple rhythm while OKC drifted further away from one.
Now, it’s to Game 7. The pressure will be there. Anxiety. Tense moments. It’s going to pile up and be two and half hours of terrifying basketball. The Thunder should respond and handle their business on their home floor. The fact Memphis has won there once and that Z-Bo got going again is a bit nerve-racking, but KD isn’t going to drop another stinker like this. The team isn’t scoring 29 points in a half again. They will be better. Just like we knew the Grizzlies would bounce back from Game 5, the Thunder are going to come back strong after this one.
But it’s all on the line Sunday. I had this series going seven and that’s where we’re at. Hopefully we see the best of the Thunder. The aggressive, attacking team that is absolutely good enough to beat anyone. If that one shows up, it’ll be smooth sailing on to Dallas. If it’s the one that forgot about the second half tonight, then it’ll be time to start talking about the draft.
- The Thunder turned it over seven times in the first quarter. Unofficially in this series, I think they’re averaging 35.8 turnovers in first quarters of this series. In the second where things got going, OKC turned it over just twice.
- The Grizzlies finished with nine more shot attempts than the Thunder. They finished shooting 43 percent which isn’t great, but made five more baskets.
- The Thunder went just 4-25 from 3. First, that’s too many 3-pointers. Second, that’s horrible shooting.
- Really interesting tweet from Shoals: “Can somehow explain how Harden’s play makes Westbrook and Durant seem like they are on same team?” It’s a great point, because it really does seem like Harden is the glue between Westbrook and Durant. Now there’s a third guy on the floor worthy of touching the ball. He’s like a mediator that steps in and cools everyone off a bit.
- Evidently Al Green sang the national anthem before the game. That was a bad sign for the Thunder.
- I have to say it: Man, Shane Battier sure came out playing a bit dirty, didn’t he?
- It wasn’t rebounding so much in this one (41-41) but it did seem like the Grizzlies got to most loose balls and really beat the Thunder on the glass in key moments.
- When Randolph has that rock-back jumper working, you’re not stopping him. Collison has been really good on him, as has Ibaka, but that’s just not being stopped.
- I keep trying to think of what really went wrong and all I can come up with is the start of the second half. After that, it was like the Thunder got whitewashed. Without KD getting it going, the Thunder were just completely sunk.
- I bet most people go with a “Friday the 13th” type lede for this game. What do you think?
- Memphis fans stood for most of the second half. That was impressive.
- The whole technical foul thing is becoming painfully one-sided. The Thunder are really getting the short end of the whistle there. Westbrook picked one up for shoving Battier back after Battier tried to deck him. Then O.J. Mayo tries to start a scuffle with Harden and it’s double-techs.
There’s no doubt the Thunder are fine. Winning here on the road in Game 6 to close the series would’ve been very nice, but it didn’t happen. That just means they’ve got to do it Sunday. It’s their first Game 7 and it will be intense and scary. But remember, the Grizzlies are up against the same situation, but they’ve got to try and do it on the road. I don’t think it’s going to be a walk by any means, but I do think the Thunder will be ready.
At least, they better be.
Next up: Game 7 Sunday in OKC.