We’ve heard Head Coach Scott Brooks say it countless times. If the Thunder plan on being competitive and winning without Russell Westbrook on the court, they need to place major emphasis on their defensive intensity. Surprisingly enough, we weren’t the only ones missing our starting point guard, as Mike Conley was sitting out due to a “grade 2 ankle sprain” (partial ligament tear). The good news for the Grizzlies there is that he’s only expected to miss roughly one week, because a grade 2 ankle sprain isn’t too serious an injury, but it’s one you definitely want to rest up before going balls to the wall again. But as it pertained to last night’s game, the defensive intensity was obviously ratcheted up on both sides.
The 1st quarter was serious slopball. The Grizzlies could only manage a 2-point lead, while the Thunder’s was up to 6 at one point. But I refer to it as slopball because the score at the end of the 1st was 20-18. That’s not a lot of 1st quarter points from either squad.
The 2nd quarter was the difference maker for the Thunder. The Grizzlies were clinging to a 1-point lead with 6:27 to play in the half. Then the Thunder decided they were done playing around, sparking a 20-1 run that established a 17-point lead (51-34) with :32.5 until halftime. Sure Marc Gasol hit a couple of free throws to end the run just before halftime, but the damage was already done, as the Grizzlies failed to score 20 points for the second straight quarter.
The 3rd quarter began in the midst of a scoring run by the Grizzlies, who had added 2 points before halftime, extending their run to 9-0, and pulling within 8 (51-43) in the first two minutes of the period. The Grizz battled valiantly throughout the 3rd, even closing the Thunder lead to 5 on multiple occasions. Although the Thunder lead was 8 (69-61) by the time the 4th quarter arrived.
The 4th quarter ended up bringing us even more sloppy play than the 1st. Neither team managed 20 points in the 4th, and both teams remained scoreless through the first two minutes of the 4th. It finally took a Mike Miller lay-up to end the scoring drought. The Grizzlies even tried to make a game of this late. Down 9 (72-63) with 8:49 to play, the Grizzlies spark an 8-2 run to pull within 3 (74-71). The Thunder lead was still a mere 3 (78-75) with 4:54 remaining, when the Thunder felt like they’d had enough, and put down a 8-2 run of their own to end the game with a 86-77 victory that puts the Thunder at 39-11, while dropping the Grizzlies to 26-21.
Kevin Durant’s 31 points led all scorers to take the floor last night. Serge Ibaka pulled off an impressive 21-point, 12-rebound double-double, while Reggie Jackson added 12 points of his own.
Zach Randolph’s 13-point, 13-rebound double-double just wasn’t enough to put the Grizzlies over the top. Gasol posted 13 points himself, while starter Courtney Lee added 11. Miller also added 11 points from the Grizzlies bench.
This gives the Thunder a 2-1 season series lead on the Grizzlies, but now they need to focus on closing out the Timberwolves season series. The Thunder currently hold a 2-1 edge in the series, and tomorrow night’s game is the final matchup between them. The first ended in a brutal 100-81 drubbing on Nov. 1st that saw the Timberwolves take full advantage of Westbrook’s absence. The Thunder have since returned the favor on two separate occasions. The first being a tremendous 113-103 beatdown on Dec. 1st that reestablished them as a true championship contender, followed by a much closer Jan. 4th battle that saw 4 consecutive Kevin Love missed free throws cost the Timberwolves the game by a mere 4 points (115-111). The Timberwolves will be looking to end the season series in a split, while the Thunder look to take the series 3-1. The game will emanate from “The ‘Peake”, and tip-off is scheduled for 7pm CST. The game will be broadcast via Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, and NBA League Pass.