The Thunder appeared to have it firmly in cruise control with 10:25 left, up 16 against an offensively challenged Memphis team. It’s not that the issues of the previous three losses had been solved, but the Thunder at least seemed to be in a strong position to prevent their first regular season four-game losing streak since 2009.
Then Mike Miller hit a 3, and another one, and another one. The Thunder were scoring semi-regularly as well, but with 2:29 left after a James Johnson 3, the Grizzlies were now down only three, with a chance to cut it to two, and in possession of the ball. Craaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. Ppppp.
That’s when Kevin Durant basically just said “nope” to the Grizzlies tonight.
After picking up a horrible technical foul with two minutes left to put Miller on the line, to which the ball did not lie, Durant forced a miss by Marc Gasol on the block, then canned a smooth jumper off some nice sidescreen-and-roll action setup by Russell Westbrook to give the Thunder a little breathing room with 1:23 left. A curious Nick Calathes 3 gave OKC the ball back, and the Thunder went back to that same action with Westbrook and Durant. This time Durant missed a corner 3, but Serge Ibaka battled for an offensive rebound, kicking back out to Durant with a reset. Durant held his dribble, then went to work on a Memphis double-team near halfcourt with 40 seconds left. Three dribbles and two giant steps later, Durant’s finishing in the lane to put things to bed.
Part of 37 for KD tonight, with 30 coming in the second half. Any talk of panic, any worry of a fourth straight defeat, any fear of things blowing up in OKC’s face, Durant took care of himself.
“I just told myself to be aggressive to score. That’s all I said to myself,” Durant said. “I was frustrated with the shots I was taking and felt I wasn’t disciplined in my work, in my fundamentals, and I just wanted to be aggressive to score. And I think that’s what my team needed.”
Still: The Thunder let a 16-point lead slip, let Mike Miller score 19 in the fourth, and allowed the Grizzlies 65 points in the second half, on a scorching 65 percent shooting. With the top issue over the last week being the defensive end, it’s not that the Thunder completely corrected everything. Except for where it mattered, on the scoreboard.
“We won. That’s what I’m going to take from it. We lost three in a row. We just won. That’s what I’m going to take from it,” Westbrook said. “I just say we won. Right about now, this time of the year. It’s about to be March. Once March hits, all you want to do is win games and get ready for the playoffs.”
Playing well be damned tonight, for sure. For one, the Thunder were playing a full strength Grizzlies, a team that always gives them fits and pushes them to the buzzer. For two, three straight losses not becoming four was the one and only mission of tonight’s game. Getting right defensively would’ve been nice, and for about 30 minutes of the game, the Thunder were doing so. But they relaxed, or something, and the Grizzlies got hot and nearly stunned the Thunder and sent the entire world into disarray. Sometimes, just having more points at the end of the night is the only cure you need.
“I feel like we went in the right direction tonight. Defensively, that first half was probably as good as we’ve played most of the season,” Scott Brooks said. “I think we relaxed a little in the fourth quarter.”
The win provides a bit of a return to normalcy, as Westbrook played well, Durant played well and the Thunder won a game in solid fashion. Yes, there are some issues to certainly clean up and this team needs to to sort itself. Good news: Like Westbrook said, it’s about to turn March, and there’s still plenty of time to do it.
- It was extremely obvious out of halftime that KD was flipping on the DESTROY EVERYONE switch. He came out and popped a 3 straightaway, and fired up two more within minutes. Him having only seven points at halftime is a rarity, and he was only 2-9 from the field. He had 17 in the third, then another 13 in the fourth while shooting 10-15 in the second half.
- Best game for Russell Westbrook since returning. He was good against the Cavs, but in just under 30 minutes, Westbrook had 21 points on 7-12 shooting with six assists to just one turnover. And he took control of the team really well down the stretch, getting the Thunder into quality halfcourt sets.
- Brooks: “I thought Russell managed that part of the game. Things were going a little sideways at that point, but I thought he did a great job of settling us down and getting to our plays that we like to run and KD did a great job of setting screens and getting open, and Russell delivered.”
- Key moment: About three minutes left, Reggie Jackson had the ball in transition and was increasingly getting himself into more trouble with each step he took. He was out of control, and about to really screw up in a critical spot. He got rid of the ball on a jump pass, finding Westbrook at the last second. Westbrook took the ball, held it, and settled the Thunder into a set, which resulted in that sweet sidescreen action for Durant’s big baseline shot.
- Thabo had to check out early in the first quarter because of a strained calf and didn’t return. If he’s out for a few games, the starting lineup gets pretty interesting. Andre Roberson has been used in Thabo’s place before, but with adding Caron Butler soon, can’t see that happened because that adds another man to the rotation. But it seems so unlike Brooks to stick the new guy right into the starting lineup, doesn’t it? My guess is it’s Lamb who starts.
- Maybe a glimpse otherwise, though: Perry Jones started the second half tonight. And gave the Thunder some pretty decent minutes at shooting guard.
- It wasn’t a great game, but Reggie Jackson looked a little more like his November/December self, scoring 14 on 5-12 with three assists. He took some bad shots and got a little carried away with his own offense at times, but he was big in the second half knocking down some shots and getting to the rim.
- Jeremy Lamb: 11 minutes, 1-5 shooting, three points. The sads. I have them.
- Pretty interesting move by Dave Joerger sticking with his bench down the stretch after they got them back into the game. Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen all sat and watched as Kosta Koufos, Mike Miller and Nick Calathes tried to finish of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. It was weird. But it almost worked!
- KD on how the last few days were for him: “I wasn’t at home crying my eyes out. Definitely was pissed. That’s the only word I can use. But I leave it at the gym amd just try to get my mind off it when I’m not there. But when we walk into that gym we focus on what we need to do better.”
- Hasheem Thabeet: not terrible tonight. Which is quite a big deal. Played 17 minutes and did some decent things.
- Steven Adams was borderline dominant in the paint a few different times, controlling the offensive glass. He had five rebounds, but four were offensive and all four led to free throws. And he went 5-7 on them.
- In 15 minutes, Adams was a +15.
- Best moment of the season for me: Postgame a reporter from New Zealand hung around to talk to Adams. After a couple questions he said, “Nice dunk you had in the first half.” Adams: “Yep. Two points.” And the interview ended right there. It was fantastic.
- Serge Ibaka played a really solid game, going for 16 points on 7-11 with nine rebounds and three basket-saving blocks.
- Second straight game Westbrook broke over his supposed 24-26 minute restriction. This is the frustration so many of us have with the team’s cryptic nature. Brooks wouldn’t ever say what the actual restriction was, so it was Westbrook who told us 24-26. So we know he has a minute restriction, but because Brooks won’t say, we don’t know if it’s a rigid one, or more relaxed. Or if it’s actually 24-26 at all.
- I recently just caught up on True Detective, so now I’ll actively be searching for ways to work that into the next 10 things I write. Just a heads up.
- If you’re Nick Calathes, and you obviously just refuse to accept defeat and shave your head, why not go the other way and completely embrace your male pattern baldness? Grow it out and bust out a Gene Keady-esque combover. It could be your signature man!
- I wondered if the “COME ON RUSSSELLLL!!!” lady hurt Westbrook’s free throw shooting. But nope. Higher free throw percentage at home every season since 2009. In fact, maybe she helped it. She said she started doing it a few seasons ago. Westbrook’s first two seasons he shot higher from the line on the road than at home. In conclusion, science.
- I have no idea what Tony Allen is ever talking about. He’s the Rust Cohle of the NBA.
- I need someone to do a study on divorce statistics related to jumbotron proposals. I feel like they have to be higher than average.
- Something random I’ve noticed: During the national anthem, it seems the in-arena cameras only ever show Nick Collison and Derek Fisher on the jumbotron. I wonder if that’s because they’re the only two players on the team that put their hands over their hearts during it.
- It was Rumble’s birthday or something tonight so a bunch of mascots were in OKC. And before the game, I heard the Hawks mascot talking to someone in the hall, and it has definitely ruined my life.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night via @Jumbl0: “Welcome to the Wood Choppers ball… They just keep swinging!”
Next up: Home against the Bobcats on Sunday