It felt like the Thunder were about to steal one, and completely turn this series around. They had played mostly awful for 46 minutes, but found themselves tied 81-81 with 1:58 left after Derek Flipping Fisher drilled a clutch 3. The Thunder had overcome themselves, and the fact they couldn’t make anything, to scrap their way to a chance.
And with a stop on the next possession, OKC had a chance to take a lead. A missed runner from Jerryd Bayless fell into the hands of Reggie Jackson, and the Thunder were off on a break. Jackson, who had been impressively poised and composed for so much of the game, and so important in sparking the Thunder’s comeback, made a bad choice. He had Fisher on the wing for either a transition 3, or maybe a layup. He had the option to pull the ball out and run a set where that Durant guy gets to touch it. Instead, he chose the third, very bad option, of going all on his own. Mike Conley slides in, takes a charge, and it’s back to Memphis with OKC needing another stop.
Marc Gasol draws a foul, hits his free throws, Durant doesn’t get a call on the next possession, then Jackson loses his head again, and commits a bad foul 80 feet from the basket to give Conley two free throws, which he hit. Durant does get a call the next possession, but misses his two free throws. A steal for the Thunder, Fisher misses a wild pull-up 3. And that was basically it.
Forty-six and a half minutes of really hard work, only to give the game away in the final 90 seconds. It’s been the running theme thus far. In Game 1, OKC made the crunchtime plays. In Game 2, they didn’t, and Memphis did. In Game 3, they didn’t and Memphis really didn’t. It’s just that the Thunder didn’t, and gift-wrapped it for the Grizzlies on the other end.
I can’t shake those final 90 seconds out of my head. So much happened in the first 2,790 that really shouldn’t have made those final 90 so critical, but still, the Thunder had overcome it. They’d overcome Serge Ibaka’s yips, overcome horrific team shooting, overcome missed free throws, overcome the bench mostly no-showing again. They were right there, despite it all.
But the Thunder just can’t find that finishing touch. It almost seems like the game is speeding up for them, like things are moving too fast. It’s kind of a sickening loss because the Thunder corrected so much of what got them beat in Game 2 (rebounding and turnovers), but just failed to shoot the ball worth a damn. I feel like I spent an entire game talking about how dumb the Thunder were, how bad they can look, how frustrating they can be, and yet they kind of should’ve won. Ugh.
That’s the story so far though. It’s one part of the box score that doesn’t add up. Game 2, the rebounds and turnovers. Game 3, the free throws and shooting. It’s basically a flipped-script of how the Thunder have won so many playoff games the past two years. It’s always been the other teams that have left grumbling and feeling like they should’ve beat the Thunder, but didn’t. The Thunder are the team not making the plays, the ones failing when it counts. That’s something new for these guys.
It’s hard not to live and die with each game in the series, but woo boy, it feels like the Thunder let a major opportunity go. They need one of two in Memphis, and if you’ll recall, the Thunder were down 2-1 in this series in 2011 and came back with a triple-overtime win in Game 4. Obviously, key difference: That series had Russell Westbrook, this one does not.
OKC wins this game with Westbrook, there’s no doubt. That’s easy to say, but it’s an excuse that doesn’t matter. Point is, with Westbrook, they can survive off games and bad shooting nights. They could manage games where things don’t work well, they could get through 48 minutes by simply out-talenting the other team. I keep saying it, but their margin for error is razor thin now. It’s unfair, but it feels like KD isn’t allowed to miss. Ibaka most definitely can’t miss two dunks and every open jumper he’s given. Kevin Martin played better, but not near enough. Missed free throws, blown layups. Bad fouls, dumb choices. Good grief, what a miserable loss.
Far, far, far from over though. The silver lining here is that the Grizzlies aren’t the type of team that are likely to go out and take this series from the Thunder. The Thunder can guard them, the Thunder can dictate matchups. The Thunder just have to play better than this. They used to get away with bad games because of the raw talent of the team, but not anymore.
They just have to play better.
- The Thunder lost, but I thought Scott Brooks managed a very good game. He picked his minutes well for Perk, and went small at a good time and better yet, stuck with it. Even with the Grizzlies big with Gasol and Randolph together, Brooks stayed small and let KD guard Gasol. And while Gasol did hit that running hook — it was more lucky than anything, banking in — it created good offensive space and made Z-Bo guard Fisher.
- One thing: Fisher came to double on almost every post touch for Gasol, which I don’t know is entirely necessary.
- It’s really a shame Jackson had such a poor final 90 seconds because he played a great game. Better defense on Conley, good poise running the offense, key shots. He played a really good game. Except for two choices.
- Can you imagine if Russell Westbrook was the one that had made those bad plays in the final 90 seconds? The world would be murmuring right now.
- Jackson made a tremendous layup in the third quarter. He high-stepped his way in like he was going for six.
- Serge Ibaka’s postseason before missing that final shot in Game 4 against Houston: 22-38. After: 23-66. Coincidence, or something more? It’s obvious that Ibaka doesn’t have any confidence, particularly with his midrange jumper. He had three wide open looks in the second half that he clanged from 16 feet. Those are automatic shots for Ibaka. He’s in his own head right now. The Thunder have to have him. Have to.
- An example of Ibaka’s confidence being shot: In the first quarter, he had a WIDE open 18 footer that he turned down. He kicked to KD, and KD passed it right back to him basically saying shoot it. Ibaka hesitated, Randolph closed on him, and Ibaka missed long.
- Credit Ibaka though for not letting his bad offensive game impact him on the other end though. He played splendid defense on Randolph (4-12, eight points) and was extremely disciplined and solid in the middle. If Ibaka could bring it on both ends, he’s the difference-maker.
- Serge Ibaka only had nine games the entire regular season he shot under 40 percent from the floor. He’s done that four times since Westbrook’s injury.
- KD had an electric first half scoring 16 points on 6-8 shooting. In the second half, just nine points on 3-11. A lot of people are crediting Tony Allen for his defense or fatigue. And while the Grizzlies obviously did everything they could to slow him, KD missed shots. Two wide open 3s early in the third, a couple midrange looks in the fourth. The Grizzlies defend, but KD beats good defense.
- Thabo Sefolosha started the game guarding Mike Conley and did really good work. But as OKC went small late, it was up to Jackson to do it, and he did a solid job himself.
- Only 10 assists for the Thunder. KD had five of those. Why? Because to get an assist, someone has to make the shot you set them up for. Ibaka really should’ve been
- Just 17 minutes for Perk. I defend Perk a lot, but it’s not hard to realize that if he’s not having a positive impact right now against the Grizzlies and Gasol, then what is he making almost $9 million for? Perk was good in Game 1, comically bad in Game 2, and just unnecessary in Game 3.
- Nick Collison can’t catch a break with the whistle. He picked up five fouls in 14 minutes. That’s 11 fouls in 29 minutes for him in the last two games. Shame is, he was playing really well with eight rebounds and a bucket, but he apparently isn’t allowed to push back on Randolph, and constantly gets tagged.
- The Thunder took 14 more shots than the Grizzlies. They lost because they only made two more baskets, only one more three, and made 11 fewer free throws.
- This game really aggravated me. I can’t remember being that angry watching the Thunder in a long time. I don’t know what it was, but man, this game got under my skin big time. I know the Thunder are in a tough spot without Westbrook, but if they’re going to go down, I want it to be because they simply weren’t good enough. Because they got beat. The only team they’re beating right now is themselves. And that frustrates me greatly.
Next up: Game 4 in Memphis on Monday.