Grizzlies make Thunder stand up and take notice in Game 1 victory
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Kevin Durant stared down at the final stat sheet, his eyes locked on the numbers like he was willing them to change. The Grizzlies took it to Oklahoma City, 114-101, on Sunday in Game 1 of this second-round series, connecting on 49.4 percent of their shots, racking up 52 points in the paint and yanking down 17 offensive rebounds that led to 22 second-chance points. That physical, bruising style that Memphis clobbered San Antonio with in the first round was packed up and redeployed in Oklahoma City with clubbing force.
"We didn't come out with any urgency, didn't have any energy," Kevin Durant said. That could not be more true. The Thunder started the game flat and stayed that way, save for a few frantic second-half flurries. This Oklahoma City team played arrogantly, entitled, like simply showing up would be enough to earn them a win. They coughed up the ball (18 turnovers), refused to share it (16 assists) and watched as quick shot after quick shot bounced off the iron.
"I can't put words in their mouth," said Memphis guard Mike Conley. "But they were going one-on-one a lot early. We play a little bit different."
No kidding. Memphis' offense doesn't move the ball as well as Boston or score as much as Denver. But it's no less effective. The Grizzlies' bruise brothers, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, continue to beat down any defender put in front of them. Gasol (20 points, 13 rebounds) overwhelmed Kendrick Perkins in the post while Randolph (34 and 10) performed like a PlayStation Create-a-Player, knocking down jumpers, put-backs and sweeping, Tommy Heinsohn-like hooks.
"Their bigs are talented and skilled," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "They are not just scorers or rebounders. They are playmakers. The one thing I admire in [Randolph's] game is that he is relentless. He's always playing. You know he loves the game. We have to do a better job of controlling him."
Added Durant, "[Randolph] is the best power forward in the league."
The Thunder have a few pretty good players too -- a truth that was muddied over 48 minutes of sloppy play. You aren't going, to win an isolation war with Memphis, though Oklahoma City appeared doggedly determined to try. Russell Westbrook needed 23 shots to get his 29 points, while Durant hoisted jumpers (21 shots) whenever he saw the slightest sliver of space.
Stick with Westbrook though, for a minute. The 6-foot-3, 187-pound guard is arguably his team's most skilled player, a point guard in a strong safety's body, gifted with blurring speed and freakish athleticism. Westbrook made significant strides this season, adding a three-point shot to his arsenal and distributing the ball (8.2 assists per game) at a career-best clip.
But in his second postseason go-round, Westbrook has regressed. His playmaking has started to taper off. The reckless, kamikaze-like assaults on the rim have become more frequent, drives that too often end in a missed shot or a turnover. As inviting as a flat-footed Conley looks on the perimeter, the scenery changes significantly with the quick hands and burly bodies of Randolph and Gasol clogging the paint.
The Thunder need the point guard, not the pure scorer. Durant (33 points) will continue to be Durant and it's reasonable to assume an ineffective James Harden (five points) will bounce back in Game 2. Westbrook has a decided advantage against Conley, who can't stay in front of him and isn't strong enough to hold his ground behind him. Westbrook can draw defenses to him on dribble-drives and pull double-teams his way on post-ups. It's his decision-making that must improve. There is no need to bull his way to the basket or launch an acrobatic shot at the rim. Not with Harden lurking on the perimeter or Durant hustling to find the open spot.
Memphis sent a message in Game 1 and it would behoove Oklahoma City to hear it. These scrappy Grizzlies won't go away quietly, won't pat themselves on the back after the first round and simply accept elimination. Clearly, the Thunder are the more talented team, but talent doesn't always carry the day. The Spurs understand just how tough the Grizzlies are and now the Thunder get it, too. They are in a dogfight now, and they better be prepared to mix it up.