After controlling 42 minutes of Game 3, the Oklahoma City Thunder regressed badly. They melted down offensively and displayed permissive enough defense to let the Memphis Grizzlies turn the tables in the final minutes.
The Thunder resembled nothing so much as the Laker team that gave away last night’s Game 3 in Dallas. Like the Lakers, Oklahoma City dictated the tempo of a road game in which they never appeared threatened, until they looked up at a scoreboard that showed them losing.
The comparisons don’t stop there. The “trust issues” that Laker Andrew Bynum lamented were on display for the Thunder as well. As the Grizzlies mounted their comeback, nobody in an orange-and-blue uniform seemed certain of how to find a good shot.
Snapshots telling the tale:
*9:44, 4th quarter - Russell Westbrook misses a 26-foot three-pointer. Twenty seconds later, Sam Young throws down a vicious right-handed slam to cut Oklahoma City’s lead to 76-69. The crowd realizes their team isn’t going away, and pushes things to a new noise level.
*7:30, 4th – O.J. Mayo’s left-wing three-pointer is perfect. Memphis’ next possession sees Tony Allen grab an offensive rebound and dunk over the trees. Memphis trails by only six, just minutes after the Thunder looked ready to pull away.
*4:07, 4th – Kendrick Perkins rebounds Westbrook’s missed 15-footer, but 6-foot Mike Conley blocks Perkins’ putback attempt. On the other end, Conley’s 19-footer gets the Grizzlies within one point.
*0:05, 4th – Kevin Durant gets the ball for seemingly the first time all quarter, but expends so much energy dribbling left-to-right to free himself from Tony Allen’s defense that he can barely plant himself to launch a 21-footer, which misses badly. The game, tied at 86, heads to overtime.
*2:15, OT – Zach Randolph muscles Nick Collison out of the way and tips in Marc Gasol’s missed jumper. After a frustrating first three quarters, Z-Bo now has 21 points and 21 rebounds. Memphis leads 94-88 and the lead never dips below four.
How did the Thunder lose their Game 2 momentum to once again cede the advantage in the series?
1) Cold shooting. Their 4-23 mark from three-point land included a miserable 1-11 showing from Daequan Cook, James Harden, and Thabo Sefalosha, all of whom need to hit from outside to take advantage of the openings created by Memphis’ swarming defensive focus on Durant and Westbrook.
2) Too many jump shots. The Thunder made all but two free throws, but attempted only 23, compared to 44 foul shots for Memphis. The officials called the game evenly; the problem was Oklahoma City’s lack of aggression toward the basket, where only Westbrook ventured with any aplomb. Harden’s effort was particularly disappointing after his blitzkrieg attacks on the rim set the tone for the Thunder’s Game 2 victory.
3) Uncreative offense. As the game slipped away, the Thunder’s only response was forced jump shots, usually after aimless dribbling or fruitless pick-and-roll action. They’ll need to diversify the playbook and identify a reliable money-in-the-bank option for times of trouble.
Oklahoma City bounced back from its last loss with a dominant team effort on offense and defense. Monday’s Game 4 will show just how much collective will the players still have.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.