In a lot of ways, that felt like a flashback to 2014, the Thunder and Grizzlies fully engaged in a wrestling match, the final four minutes completely up for grabs and Kevin Durant nowhere to be found. I KID. I’M KIDDING YOU GUYS.
The way this one played out, it felt like it was going to require Russell Westbrook to play a near flawless final four minutes, but instead, behind some very good defense, great rebounding and some timely shotmaking, the Thunder put it away nice and tidy. The critical sequence: A steal by Mike Conley (turnover by Westbrook), and an apparent open path to an uncontested layup.
Steven Adams, incredibly, tracked back to spook Conley enough to resist the layup attempt, and then as Conley backed out in isolation, Adams eventually blocked his step-back 3. Westbrook snagged it, the break was on, and Victor Oladipo canned the dagger 3.
That was special stuff from Adams, with shades of Game 2 in San Antonio coming from it. His awareness, hustle, discipline and talent was all obvious in it. And in a lot of ways, it quite possibly saved the Thunder from what would’ve been a difficult loss. Conley finishes that and it’s a two-point game with a minute left and the Thunder (Westbrook) would be required to execute something of value in a big moment. Instead, the Thunder had a seven-point cushion, and just had to dig in enough to get it finished.
The key takeaway here is this is a very nice win for the Thunder against a fellow middle class Western Conference team, and more importantly, with like 45 days ahead on the road, they needed it. They have three games at home in the month, and all three need to be wins. They can look back at the ones that got away to open the month, but what’s important is getting what they can in the present. The Grizzlies are good, especially in clutch time. And the Thunder found a way — albeit not exactly beautifully — to finish them off.
- That was Westbrook’s “first” triple-double against the Grizzlies’ franchise. Although as everyone remembers, that’s not counting the postseason where he did three times against Memphis.
- Also: Westbrook’s 18 triple-doubles ties last season’s total, and also the most since Magic in 1981-82. Westbrook has 42 games remaining.
- The Adams-Gasol battle was fantastic. It was like two polar bears wrestling over a dead seal.
- Kanter did not have a very good offensive game. He was out of rhythm, took some bad shots and seemed to be trying a little too hard. But he still put up 19 and 13 (and three assists) by basically just forcing the ball in the basket.
- Westbrook was 0-7 from 3, which wasn’t good, but I do have to say, that easily could’ve ballooned to like 0-11 but Westbrook resisted a few. The one he took with about two minutes left was awful though.
- Smart of Billy Donovan to limit Sabonis in this game. I don’t think he was totally ready for the brute fest down low. It was a night Kanter is made for as the Grizzlies wanted to stay big, and even when they weren’t, there wasn’t much of a threat.
- Westbrook had a couple lapses on the defensive end, but really cranked it up in the fourth quarter. He really worked hard on Conley, and other switches, even fronting Marc Gasol and denying a post-entry pass.
- I thought Nick Collison’s four minutes were the best four minutes of the game.
- The Thunder added a nice little wrinkle to the standard Kanter post-up and kickout to Abrines on the double play with Nick Collison screening Abrines’ man. Cleared the way for an open 3.
- Troy Daniels hit one 3 tonight.
- Jerami Grant’s dunk, man. Wow.
- Russ was wearing a Judas Priest shirt tonight so I asked him what his favorite song is. “I don’t know,” he said. And he walked away. I think this qualifies me to cover the White House, right?
Next up: At the Wolves