Did Game 2 hurt you? Well, then I hope you didn’t watch Game 3.
The only major difference this time is that the Thunder fell behind by as many as 17, before mustering a 17-0 run over a seven-minute stretch to tie the game up at 81-81 with 57 seconds left. A Tony Allen layup cut an incredible scoring drought for the Grizzlies, and a lazy entry pass from Russell Westbrook led to an Allen steal, and a four-point Memphis lead with 33 seconds left.
So naturally, the Thunder went ahead and hit another four-point play, this one being from Westbrook to knot the game at 85-85 with 26 seconds left. Another stop as Mike Conley’s lofted layup somehow rolled off the rim, and with 2.4 seconds left, the Thunder had a chance to win this stupid game.
Everyone knew the ball was going to Kevin Durant, and despite his painful struggles, because he’s Kevin Durant, there was a strong belief he was about to steal one for the Thunder. And really, it felt like the Thunder probably had to win the game there. Five more minutes of grinding with the Grizzlies was probably going to be too much, especially with the issues OKC was having in the halfcourt. But Durant fired way long, and it was off to overtime.
This one started differently, though. The Thunder won the tip, and eventually scored first on an and-1 from KD. Marc Gasol responded with a midrange jumper, then Conley splashed from deep, made a layup and Zach Randolph split two free throws. The Thunder were back down five with 2:05 left, and in big, big trouble. Durant finally rolled in a 10-foot runner, and came back with two free throws to answer Gasol’s on the other side. The Thunder dug in one more time defensive to force a deep Randolph miss, and it was back to a possession game with 36 seconds left.
That’s when the Thunder lost their damn minds. Westbrook took a 27-foot 3 — with Serge Ibaka standing uncovered under the basket — but the Thunder snared an offensive rebound. The ball swung back out to Durant… who fired a contested 3 from at least 30 feet. There was never any thought of getting two and making the Grizzlies make free throws. Nope. The Thunder were out to chuck. It’s like in pickup when you’re playing to 15 and someone gets to 12. Every guy that touches the ball is tempted to heave for the win. That’s the Thunder. Which is sad, because with the experiences they’ve had and the playoff battles they’ve been in, they should know better.
In the end, that impressive 17-0 run, that crazy Westbrook four-pointer, that glorious defense and resiliency, was for nothing. If the Thunder had just quit down 81-64 and been run out of the building by 25, they’d still be right where they’re at — down two games to one, and looking at Game 4 as a complete must-win.
I can’t help but find the result of this game kind of comical, considering Brooks spent three days saying the team’s primary adjustment needed to be simply playing better. Maybe they were changing some things internally, but for the most part, we just watched a carbon copy of Game 2. The offense was pretty much a disaster and outside of that great fourth quarter effort to come back, they actually played worse.
Here’s a hot take: The Thunder are going to have a hard time winning games when Westbrook and Durant combine to shoot 19-53 from the field. Here’s a hotter take, though: The Thunder are going to have a hard time winning games when Westbrook and Durant take 61 percent of the team’s total attempts. The Thunder had 13 assists tonight. Serge Ibaka took 10 shots. Reggie Jackson took nine. The Thunder were completely two-dimensional and almost invited the imbalance.
Something Thunder fans can continue to tell themselves is that OKC was still somehow in the game despite a horrific night from Durant. Same story as Game 2. But here’s a shuddering revelation that’s becoming clearer and clearer: That’s not a bright side excuse. That’s just how it is. It’s difficult for Durant to score, particularly efficiently. But man, did he miss some looks. Two shots stick out to me, one a simple point blank putback that even Kendrick Perkins proved capable of making, another a five-footer alone in the middle of the paint. Those are shots Durant just doesn’t miss.
So since fingers must be pointed to satisfy the anger of the fanbase, here’s my Blame Meter for Game 3:
1) Kevin Durant. He’s going to win MVP. He went 10-27 and 0-8 from 3. Again, he missed shots he’s supposed to make.
2) The bench. Nine total points on 4-18 shooting. The Grizzlies’ second unit had 34 on 16-30. Reggie Jackson: 2-9, four points. Beno Udrih: 5-6, 12 points.
3) Scott Brooks. The Thunder didn’t do anything better than they did in Game 2. They took 28 3s and only made five. Steven Adams, who had an extremely positive impact in Game 1, got a DNP-CD. The offensive ineptitude falls largely at his feet, because you can see the lack of discipline the Thunder often play with, and that’s on him for never reining that in the last five seasons.
4) The defense. The Grizzlies scored 117.4 points per 100 possessions in Game 2. Game 3? OKC did a much better job, holding them to just 93.9 points per 100. Still, shoddy defensive effort is what dug them in that 17-point hole, and they couldn’t produce stops in overtime.
5) Russell Westbrook. He went just 9-26 and had a few critical, awful turnovers. But his competitive spirit gave the Thunder an early spark in the third, and man, he hit some shots. Still, as is often the case with Westbrook, the good seemed to be canceled with bad decisions as he took some stupid 3s, and didn’t take control of the halfcourt offense like a point guard should.
34) Kendrick Perkins. Give Perk all the grief you want, but he was one of the Thunder’s most effective players in Game 3. Zach Randolph was 5-20 tonight. And Perk even kept rolling with that strong offense, putting up seven points on 3-3 shooting with nine rebounds. Oh, and I shouldn’t have to tell you: Kendrick Perkins should never be in the conversation for being the Thunder’s most effective player in a game.
So where do things stand right now? Are the Thunder done? Do they need to fire Scott Brooks by Saturday? Is there any hope? Obviously, they’re in some trouble. Being down 2-1, with another game ahead in Memphis, and the striking similarly these games have seemed to take on, there’s big reason to panic. At the same time, after losing homecourt advantage in Game 2, the goal was to come to Memphis and at least return to Oklahoma City with an even series. If that happened in Game 3, wonderful. But now it just means that Game 4 is all-important. Remember the 2011 series against the Grizzlies? The Thunder had to have Game 4, and while it took three overtimes to get it, they came back to OKC at 2-2. That’s what they’ve got to do. Losing this one is a gutpunch, but it’s not a deathblow.
But I will say this: I can’t shake how crazy similar this series is playing out to last season’s second round elimination to the Grizzlies. We all said the same thing over and over and over and over and over: If Westbrook were playing, this would be different. Unless something changes in Game 4, maybe not.
- It seems to me the Thunder are playing painfully tight right now. Durant passed up a couple very open looks because of hesitation. Westbrook actively looked off teammates. They’re just not trusting each other and playing with any confidence. The Grizzlies have taken the Thunder completely out of their game and invited the fact OKC will play 2-on-5. Westbrook and Durant can beat teams on their own. Just not when they can’t make anything.
- What’s the fix to the perimeter shooting? Some of them are terrible, forced looked. But 5-28 from deep is mostly just about awful shooting. They aren’t making anything. Westbrook is taking too many, and Durant’s not making ones he normally does. Oh, and there’s the fact outside of those two, they don’t have anyone on the roster that can routinely make them which is a problem I’ve been screaming about all season long.
- Well, one guy could, maybe — Jeremy Lamb. But he’s apparently chained to a water heater somewhere back in OKC with a jigsaw in his hand.
- As for Brooks’ overall lineup usage: I can’t really disagree with a lot of it. Jackson was ineffective, so was Butler, so was Fisher. Brooks tried a number of different lineups — smallball, pseudo smallball (Collison and Ibaka) — but the starters seemed to be the most effective. Could he have dug in and tried Lamb or Adams? Sure. I’d rather see those guys over Butler and Fisher. But if you’re assumption is that the Thunder would’ve won the game had those guys played, you’re probably reaching a bit too hard.
- Butler: 0-5, 0-3 from 3, zero points. I feel like I saw this coming.
- Westbrook’s defense was inconsistent tonight, but when he cranked up and locked in during the fourth, he was sensational. He absolutely blitzed Mike Conley, and made sure he stayed on him at every moment. It’s a lot to ask of Westbrook for him to do that for 45 minutes while playing like an insane person everywhere else, but he himself says that’s the responsibility that comes with being a great player. So do it.
- My biggest problem with the Thunder right now: Where is Serge Ibaka? I don’t really blame him — 12 points on 6-10 shooting, five rebounds, zero blocks — but as the Thunder played out the final few minutes and overtime, he never sniffed the ball once. He’s too important to ignore. He has to be part of the offense. I’ve written about that and even asked Scott Brooks about it a number of times. The Thunder have a terrible habit of freezing Ibaka out in close games. Can’t keep happening.
- Starting with six minutes left in the fourth, Westbrook and Durant took 16 of the Thunder’s final 18 shots, including nine of 10 in overtime. The only other shots: Perk hit one inside set up by KD, and Thabo hit that one on the baseline late in OT.
- Mike Miller shot an airball tonight. I can only assume it was because he was afraid Perk was going to sit on him again.
- I didn’t even mention Tony Allen’s foul with a couple seconds left that breathed life back into OKC again. He clearly tripped Westbrook, and gave the Thunder a shot. Except Westbrook missed the second of three free throws, basically eliminating the chance at a tip-in to force another OT.
- The stages of fan frustration: Complaining about the players, then complaining about the coach, then complaining about the media for not complaining about the players and coach enough.
- You want to see a disaster? Run through my mentions on Twitter tonight. Look, I think I’ve made it pretty clear that if the Thunder don’t make it to the Western Finals, there could be an evaluation of Scott Brooks coming. But unlike some on Twitter — Russell Westbrook’s brother included — I’m willing to let things actually play out before I start making those proclamations. If you want me to just tear off my shirt and start ripping on everyone in the organization from the top down for being down 2-1 to Memphis, well, then you must be new here.
- Something pointed out by Bomani Jones tonight: The two pieces OKC currently has to show for James Harden got DNP-CDs in Game 3. That stings the eyes.
- Something I’ve been meaning to note: Tony Allen is being lauded for his work on KD, and rightfully so. But as we can all see with Allen, he’s a mostly terrible offensive player that can sometimes make a decent play, but for the most part, he’s an LOL waiting to happen. So, why is it that so many, Thunder fans included, are so ready to pile the praise on for Allen, when Kendrick Perkins has essentially the same role for the Thunder? And don’t say, “Well, Randolph had 16 and 10 though…” because Durant had 36 in Game 2, and 30 in Game 3. Great offensive players score regardless of defense. It’s about making it difficult. And Perk is making it real difficult for Z-Bo.
- It’s amazing that I’m still getting questions constantly asking where Jones and Lamb are. Did some of you not watch the final month of the season?
- Before the series, I saw a lot of folks pick the Thunder in six, or the Thunder in seven. I think most the people that made those picks don’t realize in order for their prediction to be correct, the Thunder have to, you know, actually lose two, or three games.
- Here’s a reminder again: If the Thunder can win Game 4 on Saturday, they’ve accomplished the goal and have home court advantage back. BUT, they have to actually win Game 4.
Next up: Game 4 on Saturday in Memphis