It just seemed a little too perfect. Kevin Durant hitting miracle and-1 3s, Kendrick Perkins hitting buzzer-beaters to force overtime — let the history books show that actually happened — it felt like the Thunder capitalizing on their good fortune in Game 2 was too much of a given.
And when the Grizzlies scored the first four points, it was obvious that for the Thunder to survive a game where they were severely outplayed, it was going to take more witchcraft from Durant. But that magic ran out.
“It’s tough,” said Russell Westbrook. “Obviously we fought so hard to get ourselves into the position to get to overtime, but we didn’t make plays.”
The focus will hover over the last eight minutes of this game, because HOLY CRAP, but really, the tone was set early. Game 1, the Thunder blitzed the Grizzlies from tipoff, with Scott Brooks even stressing the import of winning that. Tonight, Marc Gasol got the tip, and the Grizzlies won the first 12 minutes 24-16, holding OKC to just 5-19 shooting. It was clear that things were different, and that the Thunder were going to be in one of those games where they’d have to labor for points.
“In the first quarter, we just couldn’t make a shot,” Brooks said. Which is is oft-used excuse when the Thunder’s offense sputters and stalls, but hey guess what, making shots is kind of an important aspect of good offense. A lot of those troubles stemmed from the Grizzlies’ defensive adjustments which the Thunder never countered well, but also a lot of it was Durant didn’t make some that he often does.
Still, because as they tend to do, the Thunder gave themselves a chance. Despite being down five with 13 seconds left, Durant hit one of the most absurd shots you’ll ever see. Falling out of bounds, nearly on his ass, nothing but net. After Mike Conley split his free throws, the Thunder ran some variation of a play that produced a horrific look, but there was Perk, in the right spot at the right time. It didn’t seem as if a second could quite stretch out long enough for Perk to get that shot off, but he did and it somehow rolled its way in for overtime.
The Thunder had the new life it seemed as if they needed, but again, the tone of the game was already set. Finding points in overtime was going to take some spectacular playmaking and shotmaking, something the Thunder had done erratically all night. The Thunder needed to make plays and with with 38 seconds left, it seemed they had. Thabo Sefolosha sent a quick reminder of his value, picking Mike Conley’s pocket. He dove on the floor for the loose ball, and with the chance for a possible fast break the other way but a potential scrum for a jumpball looming, Brooks made a split-second, instinctual decision and called for a timeout. Maybe the Thunder streak down the floor for a go-ahead bucket, maybe they turn it over, maybe there’s a foul. Who knows.
“That wasn’t the turning point of the game,” Durant said of the timeout. “That’s not why we lost.”
The funny thing about the focus on Brooks’ timeout, is that the Thunder had a productive offensive set the next possession anyway. Durant was fouled on a jumper by Marc Gasol — which fouled him out! — but only split the pair. So what was the alternative? That the Thunder got in a 3-on-2 fastbreak and most likely, Durant was fouled going to the rim, by someone probably other than Gasol, which wouldn’t have fouled him out. So why is there such a focus on Brooks’ calling that timeout? Didn’t it actually kind of work on better for OKC in the end?
But these are the things people latch on to as EXHIBIT A YOUR HONOR of why they think Brooks’ lost this game for the Thunder. Forget the fact Reggie Jackson got severely outplayed by Beno Udrih, or that Durant shot the ball miserably in the first half, or that hey, you know, the Grizzlies are really good and make good offenses sometimes look bad. The reason the Thunder lost is because Brooks made a snap decision for a timeout.
The other popular complaint centered around the lack of an offensive plan, with the focus being around that critical play out of a timeout where Serge Ibaka traveled. From my vantage point, it looked like a tremendous set that the Thunder didn’t execute. The first option was Durant in a pick-and-roll, but he didn’t catch the ball cleanly and dumped to a rolling Ibaka. Westbrook was circling backside and if Ibaka hits him on target without the extra step, it’s a tie game.
Except Ibaka traveled. And the Thunder lost. So there’s blame to be tossed around, as there should be. The Thunder have let homecourt advantage get away from them again against the Grizzlies, sending everyone to flashbacks of what happened a season ago. There are good excuses and good reasons the Thunder failed, but it doesn’t really matter. This is how postseason games go, particularly against the Grizzlies. It’s about those few extra plays tilting in your direction. The Thunder were unable to secure a few bobbled rebounds, they didn’t come up with big stops when they had to get them, and they couldn’t shake free of Memphis and execute in critical moments.
Look, the Thunder have never possessed an especially pretty offense. A lot of it is built around “Be Good At Basketball, Kevin and Russ.” And you know what? It’s worked a whole lot of games. But when it doesn’t, it’s ugly. There are valid questions to be asked about adjusting that style, but it’s not changing at this present moment. They’re having trouble because the Grizzlies have challenging defensive scheme that places pressure on the Thunder’s top usage guys to make the right plays and hit tough shots. Brooks acknowledged it postgame that he and his staff have to figure out ways to get the Grizzlies off Durant and let him play more hands-free on the offensive end.
This is indeed a scary situation to be in. Giving away home court, meaning a win in Memphis is a necessity, isn’t good. After Game 1, it appeared as if this was a favorable matchup for the Thunder, but that was operating under the assumption they’d play well. But when Durant had just eight points at halftime and fell to shooting 6-18 at one point in the second half, it was obvious this was one of those games to be won on attrition.
And in the end, that’s the way the Grizzlies want it.
- Scott Brooks: “We have to do a better job getting their hands off us.” Brooks steadfastly refuses to complain about officiating, so this was him essentially subtweeting the referees.
- Dave Joerger said an interesting thing pregame when asked about Tony Allen having an advantage coming off the bench to maybe see how the officials are calling things. “The officials adjust to him,” he said. Which is true. He plays so hard, so handsy, and so physical that it almost seems like he gets away with more than most because it’s either call all of it, or be selective and only call the egregious things.
- This needs to be stressed again: Beno Udrih severely outplayed Reggie Jackson. That’s a super bad thing. Udrih had 14 points on 6-8 shooting; Jackson had two on 0-5.
- Tony Allen set up the Grizzlies’ go-ahead bucket with 26 seconds left, and while it was a nice play by him, it was a horrific mistake by Serge Ibaka. Allen was curling to the rim off a catch, but in all situations, you err on the side of “make Tony shoot.” Instead, Ibaka helped off on Randolph, which was a massive error, allowing Z-Bo an easy layup.
- Mike Conley described it as moving the ball side to side to create more ball movement, but the Grizzlies made a nice adjustment of running a pick-and-roll, then bringing Gasol to the high post, which forced a Thunder wing defender to help for a second off the weakside to respect his 18-footer, but opened up some backside backcutting and made OKC rotate and help a whole lot.
- One thing the Thunder changed, at least from what I can remember, is they went over a lot more screens on Conley and Udrih. Which struck me as odd because both guys are reluctant perimeter shooters. On that, Brooks: “We’ve done it both, last game, last couple games trying to bottle him up. Take away his angles, his penetration, his rejects and his splits and how spins off of guys. But he’s a good player. He’s a very good player. Our pick-and-roll coverage will definitely be looked at and see how we did throughout the game.”
- Let me say this, and naturally it will be seen as a rigid defense of Brooks, but carte blanche blaming him after any loss is low-hanging fruit. A lot of stuff happened in this game. Some of it was on Brooks, some of it was not. I just grow so tired of every loss coming with a “This is on Brooks!” or “Brooks got outcoached!” Sometimes, players don’t play awesome. Sometimes, opposing teams play really well.
- Durant on his shot: “I don’t know, man. We lost, so it really don’t matter.”
- Mike Miller doing it again, late in regulation hitting a 3 with 53 seconds left to put Memphis up two. It was amazing, because when the ball found Miller on that kickout, the sound that came from 18,203 fans was this unbelievable “NOOOOO” in perfect unison. For good reason.
- I never saw a replay of Westbrook’s foul on Courtney Lee, but I would assume Westbrook fouled him, because had he not, he would’ve lost his damn mind.
- Are people really criticizing Brooks for calling timeout there? Come on. Split-second reaction. Possession was the most important thing. Some of you are awesome with hindsight.
- These guys were the halftime show. Pretty cool.
- There was a moment Randolph caught the ball on the block, four feet from the basket, hesitated and then called a panic timeout. Ibaka was waiting behind him. His shotblocking completely forced it. It’s in the Grizzlies’ heads.
- Westbrook needs to reel in his 3-point shooting. He had some good stretches in the regular season, but he’s getting a tad carried away right now (1-7 tonight).
- Honestly, one of the dumbest things I’ve seen this season from the Thunder: End of the first quarter, they’re holding for the final shot. Derek Fisher backs out and is going to run pick-and-roll with KD. First of all, why not give it to Jackson and let him run it, with Fisher spotting in the corner? Then, Fisher uses the screen and bombs away from 28, bricking horribly. Awesome play guys. Really good stuff.
- The Thunder took care of the ball again (just nine turnovers) but only forced the Grizzlies into nine.
- Suggestion to help relieve some of the offensive pressure put on by the Grizzlies: More screen-and-roll from Durant and Westbrook. It makes Tony Allen either hedge off or fight over a screen. I don’t think isolating KD on Allen is a great plan.
- Steven Adams only got three minutes, which was odd considering the positive impact he made in Game 1.
- OKC’s bench: 14 points on 4-16 shooting. Beno Freaking Udrih: 14 points on 6-8 shooting.
Next up: Game 3 in Memphis on Thursday