In the month of January, we were treated to almost nightly explosions of unfiltered excellence in Oklahoma City. Any given night you came to the arena, there was a very good chance you were going to see No. 35 in white do something amazing.
Monday in OKC against the rough and rugged Grizzlies, there wasn’t any signature shot, any moment that’s sure to lead SportsCenter. Instead, it was just a methodical 48-minutes that produced the desired result, an 86-77 win, and a bounce back after Saturday’s ugly game in DC.
“One of the strengths of our team, obviously, is our versatility,” said Scott Brooks. “I think tonight it was shown that sometimes you have to play different styles of basketball to get a win…On the road, we won small. Tonight, I thought we did a good job of winning big. When you play teams in this league, you’ve got to be able to play different ways. I thought that was very clear tonight. We can play different styles of basketball and still come away with a win.”
That’s what it was. The Thunder played big, played tough and played physical, outgritting and outgrinding the Grizzlies with a dominant defensive performance.
Also what helped: Memphis was missing Mike Conley, really their only playmaker and top perimeter attacker. Though there isn’t any Thunder fan feeling much sympathy there, because, well, you know. The Thunder had lost five straight to the Grizzlies without Russell Westbrook, each in a more and more antagonizely brutal way.
The last matchup was a 90-87 loss in Memphis, a more-of-the-same kind of game where the Thunder didn’t make the necessary plays down the stretch as the Grizzlies made a shot or two more when it mattered. After that, OKC won 10 straight and seemed to find itself a bit in dealing with life without Westbrook. So tonight, the Thunder kept Memphis at arm’s length for most of the night, relying on Kevin Durant’s scoring and playmaking to do the job.
“Teams are starting to blitz the pick-and-roll to try and get it out of my hands, and Serge is doing a great job of rolling and catching that thing and knocking it down,” Durant said.
Here’s the thing, though: Durant was so meh. And he had 31 points on 11-21 shooting, eight rebounds and eight assists. I’ve said this before, but that’s the mark of greatness. When a 31-8-8 line can be ordinary. We become desensitized to lines like that from KD, but if Paul George or LaMarcus Aldridge or Stephen Curry were to put that up tonight, people would be saying, “Man! You see what [insert player] did tonight?”
It’s funny, because a bunch of writers were kind of joking postgame about how there really wasn’t much to write about from this game, how it was remarkably unremarkable. But you look at Durant’s numbers, and if that’s Paul Millsap or Blake Griffin or basically anyone other than LeBron, you’re drooling over it and have a built in angle right there. With Durant, it’s just a simple, standard game that got the job done. The guy is amazing. Simple as that.
So I guess the story of this one since I’m fishing is probably the Thunder’s interior defense, and how they held Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph to 26 points combined on 11-26 shooting. But that’s so boring. Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Steven Adams bullied the two Memphis bruisers, exposing the fact they didn’t have a true playmaker setting them up and pressuring the defense. Durant didn’t even bother to guard Tayshaun Prince, essentially writing him thank-you notes each time he attempted a jumper. Courtney Lee was really the only off-the-dribble threat, and he was neutralized for 11 points on 3-10 shooting.
A simple, effective gameplan that while not especially attractive, got the job done.
- Seven of Durant’s eight assists went to Ibaka. And Ibaka had 10 total makes.
- Ibaka, again terrific. He had a double-double in the first half, and finished with another 20-10 game, putting up 21 and 12 rebounds. The chemistry he’s got with Durant in something special right now. Hopefully it continues when Westbrook returns.
- At 39-11, this is the Thunder’s best record through 50 games in franchise history.
- Steven Adams played some great minutes. And the best part: He got 23 of them. He was extremely active on the glass, particularly the offensive side, and added in four blocks. He did have five fouls, but again, it seemed like he was unfairly tagged on at least two of them. Really nice game, Kiwi Monster.
- The Thunder’s 20-4 first half run was yawwwwwwn.
- Reggie Jackson, another not-good-not-that-bad game. He had 12 points, but on 6-15 shooting, just two assists, but didn’t turn it over much. This is a pretty serious run of average to below average games for Jackson. I kind of wonder if he’s hitting a bit of a wall in his starting role.
- Just 14 points from the bench. Didn’t really matter, but not a lot of production there.
- Then Memphis started the second half with a 17-4 one that I didn’t even notice. I’m telling you, this game was boring.
- Probably the most interesting part: Dave Joerger also asked the Thunder’s game ops people to “turn the music down just a little.” He was joking. I think. Especially when you consider Memphis has one of the most loud and obnoxious PA announcers and in-arena music in the league.
- I can’t be sure, but I think the Thunder turned it up after that. At least it felt that way to me. It was obnoxiously loud. Like Memphis loud.
- Also this about Joerger: During a quiet moment, screamed “Hey, he can’t do that sh–!!!!!” Earmuffs, lower bowl.
- Zach Randolph is a closet flopper.
- KD’s streak of not scoring at least 30 points ends at two.
- Nick Calathes, still hanging on to the idea of having hair.
- James Johnson blocked KD jumpers twice. Don’t see that every day.
- Two ways to get your arms ripped off: Beat Chewbacca at that one game, or try and take a rebound from Steven Adams.
- When an official blows a block/foul call, he always goes to the “you hit him on the head” call. Easiest way out of it.
- Can’t really repeat a lot of what was said, but the Thunder’s pregame locker room can only be described as “loose.”
- KD says he wants to bring light to people. So like Stannis Baratheon’s sword, he is “Lightbringer.” Right? Right?!?! OK, I’ll end on that.
Next up: Home against the Wolves on Wednesday