This was Westbrook’s final play of last season.
If you were to tell me that Westbrook had this particular game circled on his calendar, and that he was chomping at the bit for the chance to hit the floor against this Grizzlies team, I would be inclined to believe you. Although several months have passed since the Grizzlies ousted the Thunder from the Western Conference Semi-Finals in a dominating 4-1 fashion, I wouldn’t doubt Westbrook remembers it like it was yesterday. Sadly however, it isn’t from the experience that Westbrook draws his memory from, as he never got to play a second of the series. A collision with Patrick Beverly during Game 2 of the Thunder-Rockets series had torn the meniscus in Westbrook’s right knee, and effectively ended his season. That one play not only made Patrick Beverly Public Enemy #1 in the state of Oklahoma, but essentially reshaped the entire Western Conference.
Last night, Westbrook made sure his presence was felt.
However, despite the Thunder being without Thabo Sefolosha for the second straight game, the Grizzlies knew they were about to be in for a taste of what the Thunder went though in their last playoff series. What had the Grizzlies concerned was that they would be without Marc Gasol, who is out indefinitely with a sprained MCL, as the low post combo of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are one of the Grizzlies’ biggest strengths.
The Grizzlies started okay, and even held a 10-5 lead with 7:41 to play in the 1st. Unfortunately, that was as good as it would get for them, as the Thunder answered immediately with a 16-1 run that pushed the Thunder lead to 10 (21-11) with 3:43 remaining in the opening quarter. Memphis subsequently answered with a 9-2 run that cut the Thunder lead to 3 (23-20) with 1:10 to go in the 1st. Two Kevin Durant free throws, followed by two Mike Conley free throws, put the score at 25-22, and ended the 1st with a 3-point Thunder lead.
The 2nd quarter started off beautifully for the Thunder, as a Jeremy Lamb alley oop off of a Reggie Jackson assist pushed the Thunder lead to 5 (27-22). But then the Grizzlies responded with an immediate 8-2 run that allowed them to reclaim a 1-point lead (30-29) with 10:21 to play in the first half. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, that would be the last lead they would see for the rest of the game, as Jackson reclaimed the lead for the Thunder a mere 14 seconds later off of a running jump shot. Later in the quarter, with the Thunder clinging to a mere 3-point lead (40-37) with 4:19 remaining on the clock, they spark a 17-4 run to end the first half with a 57-42 lead.
This time, the Thunder had no intentions of letting their opponent stick around. The Grizzlies fought as hard as they could, but the Thunder pretty much had this game locked up once they established a 24-point lead (87-63) with 2:11 to play in the 3rd. Durant, Westbrook, and Kendrick Perkins all sat out through the entirety of the 4th quarter, as their presence was no longer required to finish off the Grizzlies. Once the final buzzer sounded, the Thunder walked out of FedEx Forum with a 116-100 victory that improved their record to 17-4, while dropping the Grizzlies below .500 (10-11).
There were no double-doubles whatsoever from either side last night, but they obviously weren’t required for the Thunder. Westbrook’s 27 points led all scorers to take the floor last night, while Durant dropped 18 points, and Serge Ibaka contributed 12. 35 of the Thunder’s bench points came from just two players. Reggie Jackson posted 17 points, as Jeremy Lamb splashed in 18.
Conley’s 20 points lead the Grizzlies in scoring last night, as Zach Randolph added 17. Center Kosta Koufos managed 12 points, and Jerryd Bayless, the man most NBA draft analysts expected to be picked over Westbrook, threw down 11. Jon Leuer’s 17 points led the Grizzlies in bench scoring. Although the decision to sit Ed Davis over a left ankle sprain, and Quincy Pondexter for a tarsal navicular stress fracture left the Grizzlies bench very short-handed. Most analysts agree that Pondexter is done for the season.
This win actually marked the first time all season that the Thunder won the second game of a back-to-back, which surprisingly makes them the last team out of all 30 NBA squads to accomplish the feat this season. It was nice to see them pull that off on the road as well.
Now the Thunder head back home to host the Lakers this Friday. The Lakers may not be doing particularly well at the moment, but they are still a team that always requires pre-game preparation. The game will be coming to you from Chesapeake Energy Arena. Tip-off time is 7pm CST, and will be broadcast via Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, and ESPN.