Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Thunder - Grizzlies Game Four: Hit Me With Your Not Good Enough Shot

Woo, I Say, Woo
The first half was about as good as the Thunder can play in the post-Russell Westbrook Era. Kevin Martin was hitting shots, Serge Ibaka had shaken off his gremlins, Kevin Durant was being the most efficient scorer on the planet, and Nick Collison was making his Veteran Poise plays. They turned Mike Conley into a shooter rather than a passer, fought the Grizzly bigs to a draw on the boards, and built a 17 point lead. Given the talent disparity post-Westbrook, no one made the mistake of thinking the game was over, but the Thunder were within another run of putting it away.

The run never got there.The Grizz cut the lead to end the half, and an 8-point halftime lead felt like a precursor to a loss. It was.

In the third, the Thunder offense ground to a halt, while Marc Gasol started making shots, and the refs made a few Home Court Hmm calls. The Thunder were doing a good enough job of avoiding turnovers to keep the run from being a runaway, but the drums were rising and the glass of water was shaking.

In the fourth, neither team could get separation. OKC got some stops on the defensive end with Durant on Gasol and Collison on Zach Randolph, which is to say, they got stops with smoke and mirrors. The officiating started to tighten up and make mistakes along with the players; it's never a good sign when you get late in the game and notice that Joey Crawford is going to decide how things are going to end. Randolph got Collison out of the game with a borderline flop, OKC's offense started looking all kinds of tense and isolations, and the Memphis defense went to that place that only they can go, with a Gasol block on Ibaka that was huge.

Durant missed another free throw with 1:48 that could have given OKC a lead, and maybe even a win. Memphis got o-boards; they always do. Zebo got to the line after one of those signature volleyball possessions and only made one, then striped Durant for the I Can't Believe He Did That play of the night. Tayshaun Prince got away with a hold to set up yet another o-board. Another FT make kept the door open, then Durant wisely went to the bucket and got a scoop to go for the tie with 6.4 left. And then, in honestly the most shocking play of the night, Kendrick Perkins blocked Randolph at the buzzer to force overtime. No, seriously, Kendrick Perkins, one of the worst rotation players in the NBA, made the stop when the Thunder needed it the most. I'm staring at that sentence right now, waiting for the footage to change and tell me something different. No one's going to remember this, but still, um, props to a terrible basketball player for his moment.

In overtime, Reggie Jackson joined the parachute club to give Allen a layup. Perkins saved an Ibaka miss, leading to a bailout foul on Allen against Durant, his fifth. Derek Fisher continued a string of bad misses, leading to a Gasol miss and Zebo volley; the 4-point Grizz lead became their largest of the night at the time. Durant missed again, and half of the overtime was over with the home crowd smelling blood, but Zebo missed and Gasol was called for a shove to give the Thunder life. Fisher finally hit a three, and the game stayed live. Conley missed a corner three, with Ibaka getting the board, but Jackson was called for the charge for a fresh turnover. Prince missed from the baseline, and he compounded the error with a loose ball foul as Memphis Fan went into Ref Serenade Mode. This was starting to feel special.

Durant missed a pull up where his feet weren't right, and then Gasol made another distance shot at the end of the clock, just huge, to push the lead to three. And then Fisher made just a gruesome, awful turnover, as Allen baited him to try a bounce pass down low to Martin for a quick make. Gasol missed one FT, but Durant couldn't get a three to go to make things interesting

The Grizz won tonight on a game when they shot for a poor percentage and only really played a good half and overtime. They also overcame the first good game that Ibaka has had in weeks. But the plain and simple fact of the Thunder is that they really can't win close games without Westbrook unless Durant wins them on his own, and the defense that Tony Allen throws at him late prevents that from happening. (Why doesn't Scott Brooks spend the first three quarters trying to get his guys to get Allen in foul trouble? Because Scott Brooks is still coaching as if he's got the best talent. When, well, he doesn't.)

The series now moves back to OKC, and I suspect it's not going to end there; the Thunder have pride, a home crowd, and an opponent that's in no way experienced at closing teams on the road. Durant shot three FTs tonight; in an elimination game at home, he might get 15 to 20. Every game keeps coming down to the end, which is leading some to think this could do deeper than six. But the reason why OKC hasn't won close games is because they are gassed from having to work harder the rest of the night, and because Grizz coach Lionel Hollins is saving Allen for Durant late.

But the plain and simple is that OKC played their best game tonight, and Memphis played ordinary. The fact that the Grizz still won tells you all you need to know about who's going to move on.

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