If this was supposed to be a measuring bar game for the Thunder, then maybe the bar is a little lower than we thought. A win was going to validate the Thunder’s record, proving that they were capable of taking care of business against lesser teams while still remaining elite against top competition.
A loss was going to expose the fact that the Thunder’s six wins came against mostly bad teams and their three losses against quality competition.
So with the Grizzlies beating the Thunder up with a 107-97 win, the questions are going to start rolling again.
“We’re disappointed we lost the game, no question,” Scott Brooks said. “I’m not going to say it’s just another game in November because it’s not. Every game is an important game. I thought tonight they outplayed us and we’re not happy with it, but we’re going to look at film and see why that happened. It wasn’t because of effort. They just outplayed us.”
Relevant disclaimer though: It’s early is November and while games are still important and there are things to learn, jumping to conclusions now is stupid.
Here’s what Wednesday’s game really came down to: The Grizzlies destroyed the Thunder in the second quarter 36-15, turning around a 10-point first quarter deficit into an 11-point halftime lead. The second half OKC won 52-51, but the second quarter hole was too much to overcome. And the way it happened. Three 3s from Quincy Pondexter, jumpers from Wayne Ellington and shots from Jerryd Bayless. Other than that production, the game was played mostly even. Memphis’s bench just whipped the Thunder’s.
Late in the third the Thunder started to put together a little run, cutting Memphis’s lead down to six, 77-71, but a couple Rudy Gay buckets took it back to 10 heading to the fourth. That’s really all the Grizzlies did. They got the lead and just held OKC at arms length. Gay was tremendous scoring 28, which felt more like 48. Memphis didn’t turn the ball over at all, giving it away only eight times. They took 21 more shots than OKC. They rebounded, eliminated OKC’s transition game, didn’t allow second chance points and really just completely outplayed, out-toughed and outclassed the Thunder.
Does this reveal something about OKC? If you really wanted it to, you can probably find something. Like I said, the Thunder’s three losses have come against the Spurs, Hawks and now Grizzlies, all three good teams. The six wins against weaker competition. Is there something to read into there?
“We move past it, and just have a good day of practice tomorrow and move on to New Orleans,” Durant said. “It’s nine games into the year man. There’s no need for us to hang our heads. After a win we move past it, and after a loss we move past it. I give credit to Memphis. They came out, took our first hit and were able to respond pretty well. It’s a great learning lesson for us.”
All you can do is play the games in front of you, one at a time. Like Brooks and Durant said, this Memphis team was simply better than the Thunder tonight. They beat OKC up, made more plays and won the game. Run it back tomorrow, and you might see a different result. It was an extremely well played game, hard fought and the Grizzlies won it because of a big second quarter. Really, the Grizzlies kind of just played the most Grizzlies kind of game ever. Took care of the ball, played gritty defense, rebounded and made some big shots. And Rudy Gay showed up for once against the Thunder.
I wanted to see something from the Thunder tonight, specifically because it seemed like a great opportunity to make an early season statement. It’s extremely disappointing in the regard that the Thunder got beat in a game where maybe they had something to prove. Especially at home. You’d hope that they’d show up and play with a little edge.
It shouldn’t be surprising that the Thunder lost, as it wouldn’t have been surprising had they won. When you play good teams, it’s hard to win. The margin for error is slim and if you have key pieces fail to show, your chances decrease significantly. Durant was excellent, Westbrook solid, Ibaka pretty good. Other than that, the Thunder got little from anywhere else, most notably defensively. And like KD said, credit the Grizzlies. A lot of those shots were well contested.
But they went in and the Grizzlies finished with more points, and that’s what mattered. It’s a drop in the big bucket that is the NBA season, but in terms of early season games, it did feel a bit more important. And therefore, a bit more disappointing.
- Perk and Zach Randolph were both ejected late in the fourth quarter and there was initially a reported altercation between the two in the tunnel. A police spokesman denied any such thing and said there was no investigation into it. A source that witnessed the event told me that Perk and Randolph didn’t physically confront each other but were “cussing back and forth” near the locker rooms. From what I understand, something took place after the ejections. What exactly it was is unknown and the official word from both the team and police is that nothing did.
- Kevin Martin wasn’t there tonight. It’s the first game with the Thunder he hasn’t scored in double-figures. And he only attempted four shots. He just wasn’t into the game. While there are big advantages of Martin’s style of not playing with the ball, this was the negative. With Harden, the Thunder could get him involved by simply allowing him to run offense. Martin though needs a bit more setup, and he was mostly invisible tonight.
- Brooks on Martin: “That’s something that we definitely to look at. Because we need his offense and we need his aggressive play. Four shots isn’t good enough. That’s a combination of the team, myself and Kevin. We don’t want to go into a game and only give him only four shots. He’s too good of a scorer and too good of a guy that moves without the ball. We didn’t do a good job, I didn’t do a good job and he also has to do a better job. But we’ll figure that out.”
- First 30-point game for KD this season. Came in a loss, but it was kind of nice to see No. 35 filling it up.
- That’s five double-doubles for KD this season. He had 17 all of last year.
- Another double-double for Westbrook, giving him four on the year. All of last season he had seven.
- No smallball from the Thunder tonight. OKC stuck with having two bigs on the floor at all times pretty much. And as a result, only 21 minutes for Thabo. I always find it strange when Scott Brooks preaches defense being where things start for the Thunder but then he chooses offensively-minded linueps.
- I don’t know why Marc Gasol did this, but it looked like Russ was going to kill him. I’m surprised he kept his claws in. My favorite part though was how hard Gasol flinched. I think he had to change his shorts during the next timeout.
- Kind of getting tired of Westbrook starting games 0-for-something. He started tonight 0-of-4.
- The Grizzlies went almost 20 minutes without committing their first turnover. With the Thunder’s length and athleticism, the way the Grizzlies took care of the ball was incredibly impressive. It kept the Thunder from getting any easy baskets.
- KD seems more frustrated with officiating this season than ever. He pulls the throw-my-arms-out-and-complain move a lot now.
- I don’t know if you guys have been paying attention to Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson’s pregame routine, but do next time. It’s fantastic.
- It’s a little strange for the Thunder to lose a game in which they mostly took care of the ball, shot 48.6 percent from the floor and hit 21 free throws. And it’s not like the Grizzlies killed OKC on the offensive glass either. In fact, the Thunder won the rebound battle 40-39. They just couldn’t get stops.
- Important note: Really, really, really don’t like Marc Gasol. I don’t think Perk does either.
- Rumble on stilts continues to be disturbing and terrifying to me.
- Was having an intense nickname discussion before the game and we came to the conclusion that Nick Collison’s nickname should just be the whitest first name ever. How about Connor? I think I’m going with Connor.
Next up: At New Orleans Friday.