The Grizzlies defeated the Thunder 98-95 in overtime in Game 3 at the Fed Ex Forum on Thursday to take a 2-1 series lead.
• A bad rerun. If the Thunder learned anything from their Game 2 loss to the Grizzlies, it didn't show.
The two losses were eerily similar in nature. The Grizzlies rode superb defense to build big leads, forcing Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to choose between going two-against-five or trusting in their less potent teammates. Both times, Oklahoma City's All-Star duo succeeded in mounting comebacks by deciding to call their own numbers, even forcing overtime with miracle four-point plays in both games. In each case though, Memphis reasserted control in the extra period to secure the victory, as turnovers and less-than-ideal shooting numbers eventually caught up with Oklahoma City.
This is textbook stuff for a Memphis defense that has left opponents with sagged shoulder and out-of-kilter boxscores time after time in recent years. Their ability to warp an opposing attack was really on display here : Durant and Westbrook combined to score 60 of Oklahoma City's 95 points and take 53 of Oklahoma City's 87 shots. From the 6:34 mark of the fourth quarter until the final two seconds of overtime -- a span of more than 11 minutes -- Durant and Westbrook were the only Thunder players to attempt a field goal or score a point. Their shared flurry made up a 10-point deficit, as Memphis went nearly seven minutes in the fourth without a field goal. It was an exhausting, inspired, gutsy and not particularly pretty effort, but it wasn't enough.
Game 3 extended a trend of the Thunder's stars welcoming an extra burden, one that is almost certainly larger than is optimal. Durant is averaging 26.7 field goal attempts in the series, up from 20.8 during the regular season; Westbrook's tally has similarly increased from 17.2 in the regular season to 24.3 in the playoffs. Together, they are responsible for taking nearly 60 percent of Oklahoma City's shots, and they are doing so under the duress of an attentive defense. They combined to shoot just 4-for-21 on three-pointers in Game 3, and only once in his seven-year career has Durant (who went 0-for-8) attempted more three-pointers without making one. A number of shots late in the game, by both players, were badly forced.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks didn't offer much in his post-game comments, lamenting the missed shots and pledging to review the tape. Down 2-1 with Game 4 set for Saturday in Memphis, Brooks must either find easier shots for his stars (a difficult task indeed) or hope that some of the Thunder's complementary players rise to the moment well enough that Durant and Westbrook trust their abilities throughout an entire game.
• The disappearing bench. This is no misprint: for the second straight game, Beno Udrih -- a minimum-salary waiver wire claim after being cut by the Knicks -- arguably outplayed Oklahoma City's entire bench by himself. In Game 2, Udrih's 14 points matched the total output of the Thunder's reserves. In Game 3, his 12 points surpassed Oklahoma City's total of nine bench points. Caron Butler, the Thunder's midseason pickup, went scoreless despite taking five shots, and Reggie Jackson, a very capable player during the 2013 playoffs, failed to make an impact for the third straight game.
Memphis clearly couldn't be happier with these developments.
"We want to just be alert when those [Durant and Westbrook] have it," Tony Allen said. "We want to make the Derek Fishers of the world, the [Thabo] Sefoloshas, the Caron Butlers, be the ones to beat us. We understand Kevin Durant is going to get his and we're not [going to] get discouraged if [Durant and Westbrook] get going."
During the regular season, Oklahoma City's bench ranked 14th in scoring, putting up a combined 32.2 points per game. Consider that average is heavily influenced by a team that was stretched during Westbrook's absences, and it was more than reasonable to expect some level of meaningful contribution during the postseason. Instead, the Thunder's bench is averaging just 16 points per game so far against the Grizzlies, a figure that ranks dead last among the 16 playoff teams. Remarkably, that includes both Houston and Portland, two teams that have played very tight rotations in the playoffs after regular seasons in which they finished in the bottom-five in bench scoring.
Remember, two of Oklahoma City's five starters -- Kendrick Perkins and Sefolosha -- are virtual zeros offensively, so it's critical that Brooks locates a spark, whether it's Fisher, Jackson, Butler or even Jeremy Lamb, who has barely played in the series.
• Mike Conley's wooden hat. On a more whimsical note, Grizzlies guard Mike Conley was all smiles after posting 20 points (on 8-for-14 shooting), five rebounds and three assists. Although he missed a potential game-winner at the end of regulation, Conley nailed a go-ahead three-pointer in overtime.
His outside punch complemented the fearsome high-low duo of Zach Randolph (16 points and 10 rebounds) and Marc Gasol (14 points and eight rebounds), but much of the attention went to his choice of headwear: a wooden hat.
"It's actual wood, man," Conley told reporters.
Last year, Conley wore a wooden bow tie, and the hat was courtesy of the same designers.
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