Every day things change, but basically they stay the same.
At least when you’re talking about a Westbrook-less game between the Thunder and Grizzlies.
Everything about this game was May 2013 all over again. It had Marc Gasol hitting an absurd late jumper. It had questionable officiating. It had Reggie Jackson making a poor transition decision in crunchtime. It had KD trying to carry the load but not getting near enough help.
But most importantly, like four times in May, it had the Grizzlies coming out on top in an excruciatingly close game. It was like watching Marley and Me for the fifth time and hoping that just for once, it was going to have a different ending. Nope.
And just like that postseason series, the Thunder can look at a handful of plays and feel like they should’ve won the game. Down three with 20 seconds left, the Thunder had an opportunity for a quick-ish 2, or a shot at a 3 to tie up the game. Durant split a double and had a pretty clear path to the rim with only one defender (Zach Randolph) in his way. Durant’s choice: He went for the “correct” basketball play, kicking to a wide open Serge Ibaka in the corner with a look to tie. Back iron, Grizzlies rebound.
Now, should Durant have passed here? I say yes, absolutely. But had he attacked the rim and made or missed, I wouldn’t have had any issue with that either. I think Randolph mostly would’ve just given KD the two to avoid the risk of a three-point play, so it could’ve been 87-86 with about 12 seconds to go. A very good scenario for the Thunder with a lot of options. Maybe the Grizzlies — who aren’t a great foul shooting team — miss one and give OKC an opportunity to go for the win, or tie. Maybe Randolph fouls Durant anyway and he gets an and-1. Maybe Durant misses an easy one and it doesn’t matter.
But we don’t know that stuff. What we do know is that Durant got Ibaka, a 38-percent shooter from that exact spot on the floor, a very clean look to tie the game. If you can’t live with that, then I’m not sure you can live with proper basketball. We’ve seen plenty of KD trying to play supercloser with step-back 3s, and while he’s made a lot of them, getting an open look for a capable shooter is the better play. If Ibaka drills that, we’re applauding the trust and the late-game execution by the Thunder in a critical spot. I mean, are people really lamenting an actual open look for the Thunder in a late-game halfcourt moment? Haven’t we seen enough of the contested KD step-back heaves?
Still, there’s no denying the Thunder kind of let this one slip through their fingers. Whether the plays were good fortunate or not, the Grizzlies made things happen in the final four minutes while the Thunder did not. Reggie Jackson airballed a clean look from a few feet with 45 seconds left down three. Durant missed a great look in the post down three with 1:16 left. After Ibaka hit a wild step-back 3 to cut it to one with four seconds left, the Thunder failed to foul Memphis without letting three seconds tick off, basically eliminating any chance at a game-tying attempt.
(Also, why did the Thunder immediately inbound the ball after Lee’s second free throw? Collison gave it right to Jackson a solid 90 feet from the basket and let him launch an 80-footer. Why? Why not throw a crosscourt bullet to see if you could at least be taking one from 40 feet? Why not throw one high for KD and see if he couldn’t come down with it on the other end? I didn’t get that.)
I had a lot of people asking permission to officially start worrying after tonight’s loss. Worry about what? Unless you’re worrying about Westbrook not ever returning or you think winning the top seed in the West is the difference between making the Finals and not, I don’t exactly know what there is to panic over. These losses are frustrating and annoying and deflating, but they also aren’t actively standing in the way of the Thunder’s greater goal.
This was a good game they played tonight. It wasn’t one where you could single out glaring issues and aggravating problems. It was a road loss to a good team that just got their best player back. The Thunder fought, they scrapped and they had a chance. It’s the losses like they had against the Jazz and Nuggets that are infuriating and should cause the questions and lashing out. These types of games happen in an NBA season.
But if Westbrook isn’t available to play in a postseason series against the Grizzlies? Then yes. Absolutely for sure, worry.
- KD finished with 37 on 15-28 shooting with four rebounds and four assists. That was Durant’s 21st game this season of at least 30 points tonight. The next highest in the league is LeBron with 12.
- OKC’s starting five, as it has been a lot lately, was a major problem tonight. That lineup in 17 minutes was a -16. They dug a big first quarter hole, then they gave up a halftime lead. I don’t have any issue sticking with that lineup with a healthy Westbrook and in fact, I think I endorse it. But without him, something’s got to give here. There has to be some kind of consideration of going small with Ibaka at center and Durant at power forward with Lamb starting, or at last put Collison in over Perk. When this group is playing together more than any other five (10 more minutes than the next closest lineup) and it’s performing this poorly, something’s got to change.
- Reggie Jackson’s defense is a concern right now. Thing is, I think he’s a solid defender. But either because he’s trying to manage his energy better or something, he’s just not defending with any kind of force. He gets lost off the ball, or gets caught napping.
- Jackson did have a better offensive game with 17 points (6-14, 3-5 from 3), six rebounds and three assists, but he gave it away seven times.
- It’s noticeable how much better the ball moves when Nick Collison in on the floor. He’s always setting screens, directing traffic off the ball or catching and making something offensive happen. When Collison is in, there’s just a lot less standing around.
- Jeremy Lamb had nine points (3-9 shooting) and seven rebounds, but missed a bunch of great looks, particularly in the fourth quarter.
- The Grizzlies had eight offensive rebounds in the first quarter. They had 11 total for the game.
- The big change on that front? Steven Adams came in. One of Adams’ best games of the season. He fixed everything for the Thunder it seemed in the first half. The offensive flow was better, the rebounding got cleaned up and the defense was solid. Adams was excellent against both Randolph and Gasol. He played only 21 minutes but had nine boards and five points plus a steal.
- One of these days, Marc Gasol is going to break his own neck from snapping it back to try and draw fouls.
- Thabo Sefolosha started the game on Mike Conley and really, did a pretty good job defending him. But Thabo only played 19 minutes and didn’t make much of an impact outside of some nice on-ball defense for a while.
- The Thunder lost this game in two places: 19 turnovers, and just 5-21 from 3.
- Courtney Lee with 24 on 9-15 shooting? Courtney Lee with 24 on 9-15 shooting.
- After winning eight straight on the road, now the Thunder have lost three straight. And life doesn’t get easier as they head to Houston in Thursday to play the Rockets.
- Matt Pinto had to call the game tonight because of a personal matter for Brian Davis, and his broadcast was simulcast on the radio. Pinto’s fantastic, but listening to a radio call while watching it on TV is a pretty horrible experience.
Next up: At Houston on Thursday