Grizzlies kill the buzz topping the Thunder, 94-88.

BOX SCORE

Late fourth quarter, one point game. A dagger 3 is drilled and the 3 holsters are busted out.

Except it wasn’t Russell Westbrook doing it this time. It was O.J. Mayo.

If there was ever the type of game set up for failure, it was this one. The Thunder were coming off a week they had topped three of the NBA’s best teams with another big one Wednesday. They were on the second game of a back-to-back and hosted a good Memphis team that had been struggling and was desperate for a good win. The Thunder had their chances, and if Mayo’s 3 doesn’t drop Oklahoma City has the ball with 30 seconds left and down by one, a position they’ve excelled at. Instead this time they were the ones getting daggered.

“Give credit to Memphis. I thought they did a good job of putting their hands on us and being physical throughout the game,” Scott Brooks said. “I can’t fault the guys. We’ve been playing great basketball. We’ve been playing high level both ends. But tonight we were a little out of sync on both ends.”

It looked like the type of home game OKC was going to find a way to pull out after Nick Collison triggered a spark with a pretty outstanding putback dunk. Russell Westbrook got going, the Thunder were getting enough stops and it was just about making a few shots, grabbing a few rebounds and finishing up with a win.

Instead, the Thunder dropped a game they held their opponent to 39.1 percent shooting. I’m not sure anyone has defended the Thunder as well as the Grizzlies did. Each possession was a total grind. Nothing was easy off the ball as Memphis bumped, held and pushed the Thunder. Brooks described it as being out of sync, but really, the Grizzlies just threw everything off. It wasn’t much different than the games OKC played against Memphis in the postseason last year, except the Thunder didn’t come up with the big plays to win.

Memphis took away the Thunder’s transition game entirely — OKC didn’t have a single fast break point — didn’t allow easy mid-range jumpers for Westbrook or Durant and basically slowed the game to a 24-second possession-by-possession battle. OKC excels in transition, padding the scoreboard with easy fast break buckets, but the Grizzlies took it all away.

“They didn’t turn the ball over,” Durant said explaining why OKC couldn’t run. “A lot of people think we just get the ball out and run, but our fast break points usually come off of us getting turnovers and playing defense. Tonight they took care of the ball better.”

The Grizzlies turned it over just eight times to 18 for OKC. The turnover battle had become something of late the Thunder hasn’t struggled with, but with the way Memphis mucked up the game and made it ugly, OKC had trouble resisting the urge to force things. Durant was just 8-of-20. Westbrook 5-of-16. And Harden scored only 14 points on nine attempts. The offense just wasn’t there, plain and simple.

It’s a bit of a humbling loss after the wave of fun everyone rode the past week, but Memphis is a good team. And the Thunder had already beat them three straight times. Sweeping a team 4-0 in a season isn’t easy, especially one as solid as the Grizzlies. The bad news is, the Spurs are now just a game behind OKC in the loss column. And with another big game waiting in Miami, the Thunder need to bounce back.

NOTES:

  • When the game is allowed to be as rough as it was, especially off the ball, it limits OKC’s offense immeasurably. I’m not necessarily saying the officiating was bad, but Scott Brooks was obviously frustrated with the way the game was being called off the ball. He mentioned it in his opening statement after the game, but picked up a technical early in the fourth quarter complaining about how much holding Memphis was doing.
  • ┬áThe Grizzlies took away Westbrook’s mid-range game almost completely. Marc Gasol stepped up to contest really well off of screens and there was never really an opportunity for Westbrook to get in rhythm with it.
  • Of note: Durant took 20 shots to Westbrook’s 16. I thought that was a guaranteed recipe for success? I think you saw in this game how important Westbrook is offensively. He needs to score. When the Thunder made their run, it was when Westbrook started scoring.
  • Durant had a confusing game. He missed a lot of shots he typically makes. Normally you’d give credit to his defender, but Gilbert Arenas was the guy he was doing a lot of that shooting over. Arenas pulled the chair on KD twice in the post and basically just hoped Durant would miss his shot over him. I guess it worked.
  • Arenas on defending KD: “He is used to bigger guys on him and just shooting over them when he gets space. I defended him in D.C. and I knew that I needed to crowd him a little bit and make him uncomfortable. I wanted him on the bloc, and I had to pull out a few of my veteran tricks with pulling the chair from underneath him.”
  • Again, the Thunder are only one game ahead of the Spurs in the loss column. This Western race is not even close to over yet.
  • Serge Ibaka tried a lefty hook shot. I thought April Fools was yesterday?
  • This game had very little flow. Lots of fouls, lots of turnovers. It just seemed difficult for OKC to ever get a rhythm.
  • That low dribble crossover KD put on Gasol? Siiiiiiiiiick.
  • A Jazzercise halftime show is code for “everybody go to the bathroom right now.”
  • Quincy Pondexter picked up a technical for saying “ball don’t lie.” It wasn’t just for that though. Ref David Guthrie told him to quit complaining twice, then gave him a last warning. After Harden missed his first free throw, you could see it coming. Pondexter turned and let out the “ball don’t lie” and was immediately hit with a tech.
  • It took one minute for Perk to get under Marc Gasol’s skin. Gasol hit a turnaround over Perk and talked a little something down the floor. Perk bumped him hard on the other end and Gasol shook his head and mouthed, “motherf—–.” They do not like each other.
  • If you were wondering, I fully intend to watch Collison’s putback for the rest of the night
  • On that note, I’m pretty sure if you don’t despise Marc Gasol, you aren’t a Thunder fan.
  • At the end of the Thunder’s intro video, there’s been a slow motion clip of KD sinking a jumper over Grant Hill. But that was replaced with the halfcourt oop from Westbrook to Durant. Nice touch, pregame intro video.
  • I asked Westbrook pregame about his 3 holster thing and where it came from. He said, “I don’t know. It just started when I started hitting 3s.” I asked him if the guns are his signature or something and he said, “Shooter. I don’t know what to call it. You can call it what you want. I don’t even know what to call, but you know it’s coming.” Then I asked if he’s heard people griping about him showboating with it or if he cares. “Nah. If you don’t know nothing about by now, you should know that about me Royce. If anybody say anything about that, you should know, ‘Oh Russell really doesn’t care.'” Why not, right? “Exactly,” he said.
  • KD was asked pregame what he thought about He Who Must Not Be Named: “That guy doesn’t know a thing about basketball … Skip Bayless, he’s just a funny character man.” On if he’d go on First Take to defend Russell: “Yeah no doubt, no doubt. I stick up for all my guys. Especially against a guy that’s never seen an NBA game before. It starts to get sickening when you hear someone talk about your teammate like that almost every day. I’d stick up for him any single day. I was waiting for someone to ask me about him. Russell’s been having a phenomenal season and I get upset when people kind of overlook that because me needing more shots or whatever. He’s having a best point guard in the league type of year.”
  • Brian Davis Line of the Night via @ThunderBDSays: “That one hit off Randolph’s keyster!”

Next up: At Miami Wednesday.

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