Let the Memphis Conspiracy Theories Begin

Let the Memphis Conspiracy Theories Begin

Blaming refs, blaming league officials, blaming any outside force they can think of is exactly what almost all fans do once their team has been eliminated from the postseason. Hell, the conspiracy theories out of Memphis had already started before Game 7 even tipped.

Kevin Durant led all scorers with his 33 points. Here he is with that scowl I like to see from him. Get mad, KD!

Kevin Durant led all scorers with his 33 points. Here he is with that scowl I like to see from him. Get mad, KD!

I was seeing ignorant drivel on my Facebook feed to the likes of:

“They only suspended Z-Bo because they can’t afford to have their MVP ousted from the 1st round.”

“That wasn’t a punch! That was a shove!”

“The Grizz would have won if the refs weren’t playing for OKC.”

The last statement made me laugh. If that were the case, why did the Grizzlies take 34 free throws to the Thunder’s 30 in Game 7? Why did they take 28 free throws to the Thunder’s 25 in Game 6? Why did the Grizz take 26 free throws to the Thunder’s 19 in Game 5? Why did they take 23 free throws to the Thunder’s 20 in Game 4? The refs gave the Grizz chance after chance. It’s not the NBA’s fault that the Grizzlies couldn’t cash in at the line.

Russell Westbrook's 27-point, 16-assist, 10-rebound triple-double proved historic.

Russell Westbrook’s 27-point, 16-assist, 10-rebound triple-double proved historic.

And to the idiots saying Zach Randolph only pushed Steven Adams and didn’t punch him, this tape proves otherwise.

And some sad Memphis fans still willfully put blinders on and called it a push on the video. The butthurt in the comments section is very strong. I guess I’d be disappointed too if my team had a chance to eliminate a #2 seed in Game 6, only to suffer a monumental 2-game collapse and blow the series. Quit making excuses for a thug like Randolph! He has a history of pulling this crap, and that history is what likely prompted the decision to suspend him. If you can’t hold your emotions in check, you’re in the wrong league. This is not Rucker Park, or The Cage on West 4th St. No blood, no foul does not apply to the NBA. This is a league of professionals, and anyone who fails to conduct themselves in a professional manner suffers the consequences. It doesn’t really matter anyway, because what’s done is done. Hell, I’m done with the Randolph issue. Let’s take a look at these Game 7 numbers.

Serge Ibaka dropped 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

Serge Ibaka dropped 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

The Thunder used a total team effort in Game 7 to advance. Kevin Durant’s 33 points led all scorers to take the floor. Russell Westbrook’s 27-point, 16-assist, 10-rebound triple-double marks his 2nd Game 7 triple-double for his postseason career, making him only the 2nd player in NBA history to accomplish the feat, with Rajon Rondo being the 1st. The stat line also makes him the 3rd player in NBA history to score at least 25 points, dish out at least 15 assists, and pull down at least 10 rebounds in an NBA playoff game. Oscar Robinson was the first to accomplish this feat, and Chris Paul (who the Thunder will see in the next round) has accomplished it on two separate occasions. Not only that, but Westbrook’s 16 assists ties a postseason franchise record that was set by Nate McMillan back in ’87, when they were still the Seattle Supersonics. Serge Ibaka was good for 12 points, and Caron Butler scored 15 as he once again started at SG in place of Thabo Sefolosha. While you figure Sefolosha would be a little miffed at being benched, it looks like he took it in stride. I’m sure he feels like any lineup changes that result in an NBA Championship are more than welcome. I know that’s how I’d feel about it if I were in his position. But to conclude, Reggie Jackson came off of the bench to drop 16 points. With a 120-109 victory, those 16 points were the difference between an 11-point victory and a 5-point defeat. When at least one bench player scores big, the Thunder put themselves in a much better position to win.

Caron Butler scores 15 starting in place of Thabo Sefolosha for the 2nd straight game.

Caron Butler scores 15 starting in place of Thabo Sefolosha for the 2nd straight game.

Marc Gasol’s 24 points led the Grizzlies, but Mike Conley deserves some credit for dropping 20 points while playing on a bad hamstring. Courtney Lee dropped 16, and Tony Allen was good for 15 points starting in place of Tayshaun Prince and playing with an eye injury. Beno Udrih came off of the Grizzlies bench to score 12.

Reggie Jackson was good for 16 points off of the Thunder bench.

Reggie Jackson was good for 16 points off of the Thunder bench.

I will bring you the Thunder-Clippers series preview tomorrow. In the meantime, I’m just going to enjoy the series victory. Stay basketball-hungry, my friends.

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Start Playing As A Team, Or Finish The Playoffs From The Comfort Of Your Sofa: What The Thunder Need To Do To Get Back In The Series.

Start Playing As A Team, Or Finish The Playoffs From The Comfort Of Your Sofa: What The Thunder Need To Do To Get Back In The Series.

The Thunder really need to snap out of this current funk they’re in. I really don’t understand their mentality sometimes. They almost act like all they need to do to start getting 3s to fall is keep shooting, and they’ll eventually fall. I blame Scott Brooks for this. They may be a finesse shooting team, but finesse shooting teams generally don’t win championships. And everything seems to be falling apart all at once. What do the Thunder need to do to right the ship and start getting wins against the Grizzlies?

Russell Westbrook drives around Serge Ibaka's pick. Westbrook had a 30-point, 13-rebound double-double, while Ibaka finished with 12 points.

Russell Westbrook drives around Serge Ibaka’s pick. Westbrook had a 30-point, 13-rebound double-double, while Ibaka finished with 12 points.

1) Russell Westbrook needs to stop trying to take games over by himself. This is the Thunder, not Westbrook & Co. He is not much of a traditional PG, because half of the time he fails to even look for open teammates. Why is Serge Ibaka only shooting 10 shots when he was shooting 60% for the game? Because of Westbrook’s inability to get him open looks, and Westbrook’s unwillingness to look for him at times.

Kevin Durant also finished with 30 points.

Kevin Durant also finished with 30 points.

2) Kevin Durant needs to be not only more confident, but more assertive. I’ve never seen such a strong scorer with such a meek personality. Durant needs to start scowling more, and playing, walking, and even talking with more swagger. You’re one of the best in the game, KD! But it means nothing if you don’t believe it yourself.

Ibaka shot 60% on 6-for-10 shooting last night.

Ibaka shot 60% on 6-for-10 shooting last night.

3) Serge Ibaka could stand to be a bit more demanding of the ball. Everyone knows about Ibaka’s defense, but his midrange 18-foot jumper drops more often than not. Sadly, his abilities as a scorer are still vastly underrated.

Westbrook shoots over Tony Allen as Zach Randolph loks on.

Westbrook shoots over Tony Allen as Zach Randolph looks on.

4) Where the hell did the bench go for these past 2 games? If they start showing up, it would certainly help matters. 9 total points out of 5 different bench players won’t help anything.

Westbrook looks to squeeze through Courtney Lee and Marc Gasol.

Westbrook looks to squeeze through Courtney Lee and Marc Gasol.

I don’t care that they forced overtime again last night. The fact of the matter is, they still lost. Westbrook’s 30-point, 13-rebound double-double didn’t help anything, because he only dished out 2 assists total. ┬áDurant’s 30 points were meaningless, and Ibaka’s 12 points should have been a lot more. When you only have 13 assists to the Grizzlies’ 21, it’s obvious which squad is playing as a team, and which squad is playing like a bunch of guys who happen to be sharing the same ball court.

Westbrook at the foul line as Durant looks on.

Westbrook at the foul line as Durant looks on.

In contrast, six different Grizzlies ended the game in double figures. Zach Randolph had a 16-point, 13-rebound double-double, while Marc Gasol dropped 14 points, and Courtney Lee dropped 10. Mike Conley’s 20 points led all Grizzlies scorers, but they just get more from their bench. Tony Allen and Beno Udrih combined for 28 points off of the Grizzlies bench (Allen: 16, Udrih: 12).

Durant goes past Gasol for a lay-in attempt.

Durant goes past Gasol for a lay-in attempt.

Another Saturday 8:30 tip-off is coming. Maybe that’s what we need to get on the right track. The last 8:30 CST tip-off on a Saturday saw us take a 25-point lead at one point. It will be broadcast via ESPN and WWLS The Sports Animal. Lose Saturday’s game, and it’s doubtful they escape this series at all. I guess we’ll see what happens.

Grizzlies “Grind Game” Effective, But Decidedly Unentertaining.

Grizzlies “Grind Game” Effective, But Decidedly Unentertaining.

I don’t see this article being particularly lengthy this time. While the Grizzlies “grind-it-out” style suits them well, and sets them up for wins, it is decidedly boring to watch as a spectator. The Grizzlies basically controlled the pace from start to finish, and save for a couple of impressive made baskets by the Thunder near and at the end of regulation, there was nothing really of note. So I suppose I’ll provide video of the moments that made Thunder fans cheer in that game. (There aren’t many.)

The Thunder celebrate Kendrick Perkins' crazy put-back buzzer-beater.

The Thunder celebrate Kendrick Perkins’ crazy put-back buzzer-beater.

Here’s video of Kevin Durant’s “I-can’t-believe-that-just-happened” 4-point play:

Without that, this “he-really-just-hit-a-buzzer-beater” move by Perkins would not have been possible:

Unfortunately, those two amazing plays simply delayed the inevitable, as the pace slowed to molasses once again for the OT period. The Grizzlies got the grinder they wanted, and tied the series 1-1 with a 111-105 victory.

Kevin Durant's 36-point, 11-rebound double-double couldn't secure the win.

Kevin Durant’s 36-point, 11-rebound double-double couldn’t secure the win.

Durant had 36 points and 11 rebounds. Serge Ibaka also had a 15-point, 11-rebound double-double. Russell Westbrook dropped 25 points. What killed the Thunder was their lack of bench production. 14 bench points were scored by a total of five different Thunder players. Normally we can get that kind of production from just one bench player.

Serge Ibaka's 15-point, 11-rebound double-double kept it close, but failed to secure the W.

Serge Ibaka’s 15-point, 11-rebound double-double kept it close, but failed to secure the W.

Zach Randolph’s 25 points led all Grizzlies scorers. While Marc Gasol and Courtney Lee dropped 16 points apiece, the real damage was done via Mike Conley’s 19-point, 12-assist double-double. And Nick Calathes’ suspension opened the door for Beno Udrih, who scored 14 points off of the Grizzlies bench.

Russell Westbrook's intensity will be heavily required throughout the remainder of the series. Say what you will about Westbrook, but he's the aggressor that Durant isn't.

Russell Westbrook’s intensity will be heavily required throughout the remainder of the series. Say what you will about Westbrook, but he’s the aggressor that Durant isn’t.

Game 3 is coming to us tonight from FedEx Forum, affectionately nicknamed “The Grindhouse” in regards to the Grizzlies’ style of play. And with Saturday’s Game 4 also coming from “The Grindhouse”, the Thunder will either have to figure out how to win through the grind, or break up the grind a bit and start getting out in transition. If they don’t do either in these next two games, the Thunder will find themselves in the unenviable position of staring down a 3-1 series deficit as they come back home, and only 8 NBA teams in history have taken a series in the face of that deficit. The last one to do so was the Suns over the Lakers, and that was 8 years ago. Tonight’s game is featured as the front-end of TNT’s double-header, or you can catch the game via WWLS The Sports Animal.

Thunder-Grizzlies Postseason Match-Up Marks The 3rd Meeting In 4 Years

Thunder-Grizzlies Postseason Match-Up Marks The 3rd Meeting In 4 Years

Is anyone really surprised that these two teams will butt heads in yet another playoff series? This marks the 3rd time in a 4-year span that these two teams will square off. It’s almost as if these two teams are linked.

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Banner celebrating the Thunder’s 4th consecutive Northwest Division Championship.

2011 was the first meeting. It was the second trip to the playoffs for the Thunder, who were itching to prove they belonged there after pushing the Lakers to 6 games in the 2010 playoffs only to lose at literally the last second due to Pau Gasol’s tip-in. They did so by downing the Nuggets in 5 games to move on to the Western Conference Semi-Finals. Another Gasol by the name of Marc was looking to make an impact for the Grizzlies coming into this series as well. The Grizzlies had just knocked off the Spurs, requiring 6 games to seal the series.

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PG Russell Westbrook: 21.8 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 6.9 APG

The series itself didn’t start well for the Thunder either, as the Grizzlies came into Oklahoma City Arena (as it was known at the time, because Chesapeake didn’t acquire the naming rights until July of that year) and took Game 1 in rather convincing fashion, 114-101 in a game were the Thunder were outscored in all but the 4th quarter, which ended in a tie. Game 2 saw the Thunder redeem themselves at OKC Arena with a 111-102 final. However, due to the Game 1 loss, the Grizzlies were now the ones with the home court advantage, and it would require the Thunder taking a game at FedEx Forum in Memphis to reclaim it.

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SG Thabo Sefolosha: 6.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.5 APG

The first attempt at that didn’t go so well, as the Grizzlies took it 101-93. Fortunately for the Thunder, it required an OT period for the Grizzlies to get it done. Game 4 saw 3 overtime periods played to determine a winner, which ended up being the Thunder. The Thunder used a 14-4 3OT period to seal a 133-123 victory to knot the series up at 2 games apiece. This meant that Game 5 at OKC Arena would be pivotal to the series.

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SF Kevin Durant: 32 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 5.5 APG

The Thunder took that pivotal Game 5 using some super-stingy defense. The end result was a 99-72 victory that finally saw one of the squads build up a winning streak after trading wins each game. That win put the Grizzlies behind the 8 Ball (No. Not the Memphis rapper. Although chalk that up to an odd coincidence.), because now it was win or go home.

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PF Serge Ibaka: 15.1 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1 APG

Game 6 was the last one of the series to be played at FedEx Forum, and the Grizzlies responded beautifully, taking Game 6 95-83 to force the always-decisive Game 7 back at OKC Arena.

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C Kendrick Perkins: 3.4 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.1 APG

I really feel the Game 7 of this series instilled much of the confidence and swagger you see in the Thunder today. By taking Game 7 105-90, the Thunder proved to themselves and the rest of the world that they could survive tough postseason tests against top competition.

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PG Mike Conley: 17.2 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 6 APG

Last year’s postseason was the one where the Grizzlies got their revenge. taking advantage of Russell Westbrook’s absence after an injury suffered when a Rocket by the name of Patrick Beverly (who is now officially Public Enemy #1 in the OKC area) tore the meniscus (the cartilage in your knee that absorbs shock) in Westbrook’s right knee going for a steal after the whistle was already blown. With Westbrook out, despite the Thunder being able to take Game 1 93-91, the Grizzlies went on to win the next 4 straight, taking the series in 5 games.

Courtney-Lee

SG Courtney Lee: 9.6 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 1.5 APG

I was going to go into some numbers for this upcoming series, but if you ask me, John Schuhmann already did great work of that in Sekou Smith’s Hang Time Blog on NBA.com.

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SF Tayshaun Prince: 6 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.6 APG

Numbers Preview: Thunder-Grizzlies

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PF Zach Randolph: 17.4 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 2.5 APG

And you can get great analysis of the individual match-ups here:

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C Marc Gasol: 14.6 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 3.6 APG

SportVU Preview

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Nick Calathes. Rookie reserve PG for the Grizzlies who will most likely miss the entire postseason after being served a 20-game suspension yesterday for failing a drug test.

As far as this postseason series goes, I wouldn’t count on a sweep. As a matter of fact, if you ask me, don’t be surprised to see this series go to 7 games once again. Both teams feature stout defenses and improved perimeter shooting. I still see the Thunder taking this series, I just don’t see it being the walk in the park some Thunder fans are trying to make it out to be. My prediction: Thunder in 7. (I just see them needing all 7 games to finally put away a Grizzlies team that can be rather pesky. Never sell your competition short.)

Grizzlies Comeback Attempt Falls Short As Thunder D Tightens Up At Crunch Time

Grizzlies Comeback Attempt Falls Short As Thunder D Tightens Up At Crunch Time

I’m sorry I didn’t get this out yesterday. I was helping out on a move and didn’t realize how tired I was until after I got back home. If I would have attempted this last night, I would have ended up with a draft characterized by disjointed thoughts and incoherent rambling, which I would surely have never let see the light of day anyway.

Marc Gasol goes for a floater over Hasheem Thabeet. Gasol finished the game with 17 points.

Marc Gasol goes for a floater over Hasheem Thabeet. Gasol finished the game with 17 points.

Looking back, I’m sure every Thunder fan was watching the 4th quarter and asking themselves, “Are they really going to find a way to give this game away too?” We spent most of it watching the Grizzlies slowly, but surely chip away at a 19-point lead the Thunder had built throughout most of the game. But I’m obviously getting ahead of myself. To paraphrase the opening soundbite of a White Zombie album, perhaps I’d better start from the beginning.

Tayshaun Prince with the slick jam. Prince ended the game with 12 points.

Tayshaun Prince with the slick jam. Prince ended the game with 12 points.

The Grizzlies opened the game with the first two buckets, but that 4-0 lead would end up being their largest of the game. To make matters worse for the Grizz, the start of a Thunder run ensured that the 4-3 advantage at the 10:00 mark would be their last lead of the game. The Thunder run in reference ended at 10-2, giving the Thunder a 10-6 lead with 7:35 to play in the opening quarter. Even though the Grizzlies had managed to tie the game at 12-all with 6:20 to go in the 1st, an 11-3 run established an 8-point lead for the Thunder (23-15) with 3:10 remaining. The Thunder lead held steady up to the end of the 1st, as they took a 29-22 advantage into quarter #2.

James Johnson splits the defense of Thabeet and Nick Collison as he rises. Johnson provided 11 points from the Grizzlies bench.

James Johnson splits the defense of Thabeet and Nick Collison as he rises. Johnson provided 11 points from the Grizzlies bench.

The Thunder lead was still 7 (33-26) when a 3-point Thunder basket had extended it to 10 (36-26) with 8:15 to play until halftime. That’s when the Grizzlies started their initial comeback effort by initiating a run that ended at 10-4, pulling the Grizzlies to within 4 (40-36) with 5:16 left in the first half. The Thunder shut that effort down by ending the first half on a 17-6 run that gave the Thunder their largest lead to that point (57-42). The best part of this first half for the Thunder was that they gave up 42 points to the very formidable Grizzlies in its entirety. Keep in mind, the Thunder’s last loss came because they allowed 42 from the Cavs in the 4th quarter alone.

Serge Ibaka passes up Zach Randoplh for the lay-in, Ibaka finished his evening with 16 points.

Serge Ibaka passes up Zach Randolph for the lay-in, Ibaka finished his evening with 16 points.

After a quick Grizzlies lay-in to open the quarter, two unanswered 3-point buckets by the Thunder would give them their largest lead of the game (63-44) at the 10:11 mark of the 3rd. Even though the Grizzlies were able to generate a couple of mini-runs, the Thunder pretty much cruised through the 3rd quarter, still holding a 16-point lead (87-71) as they entered the 4th.

Russell Westbrook catches Mike Conley out of position. Westbrook's 21 points made him the #2 scorer of the game.

Russell Westbrook catches Mike Conley out of position. Westbrook’s 21 points made him the #2 scorer of the game.

The Thunder lead was still 16 (89-73) with 10 minutes even to play. That’s when a quick 9-2 run pulled the Grizzlies within 9 (91-82) with 8:40 left on the game clock. The Thunder were able to reextend their lead to 13 (99-86) with 7:13 left, when the Grizzlies pulled off another run, this one a 16-6 run that turned a blowout game into a one-possession game (105-102) with a mere 2:29 left on the game clock. I guess the Thunder D had a plan to clamp down if the Grizzlies eclipsed 30 points in any given quarter, however. They’d only allowed 29 in the 3rd, and once the 30 and 31st points were scored for the Grizzlies in the 4th, the Thunder defense that had been AWOL at various times since their return to game action from the All-Star break decided to show at the most critical point in the game. Once the Grizzlies closed the Thunder lead to 3, the defense forced timely misses from the perimeter. Not only that, but Kevin Durant finally shook off his crunch-time funk at the offensive end with two much-needed jumpers (one off of a Russell Westbrook assist), and two timely free throws that provided the killing blow to the Grizzlies’ comeback hopes. Serge Ibaka’s two made free throws with seven-tenths of a second to play were mere icing on the cake at that point, as the Thunder took a 3-1 season-series win by a score of 113-107. Their record improves to 44-15 while the Grizzlies fall to 32-25. (The Grizzlies record is now 33-25 after last night’s 110-96 victory over the Cavs.)

Kevin Durant puts one over Prince. Durant's 37 points led all scorers to take the floor in this game.

Kevin Durant puts one over Prince. Durant’s 37 points led all scorers to take the floor in this game.

One of my biggest problems with the Thunder this season was put on display yet again in this game, as they started getting too comfortable and playing slopball once again. Some of the turnovers the Thunder were guilty of in the 4th were appalling. NBA.com’s Randy Renner has apparently noticed the same thing I have when it comes to “Thunder basketball” this year, especially in terms of the defense. What he put in the game’s notebook section on NBA.com hit the nail right on the head:

Courtney Lee drives against Reggie Jackson. Lee contributed 10 points to the Grizzlies' total.

Courtney Lee drives against Reggie Jackson. Lee contributed 10 points to the Grizzlies’ total.

“The Thunder defense relaxed again in the fourth quarter. It’s something that has happened several times this season in both wins and losses. … Clearly the Thunder still don’t have that killer instinct to put teams that are down, out of the game.”

Zach Randolph splits both Ibaka and Steven Adams on the way up. Randolph posted the game's lone double-double with 13 points and 10 boards.

Zach Randolph splits both Ibaka and Steven Adams on the way up. Randolph posted the game’s lone double-double with 13 points and 10 boards.

At least Durant and Westbrook did what they needed to do to stop the slide. Durant’s 37 points led all scorers to take the floor, while Westbrook’s 21 made him the second-leading scorer amongst all players to see minutes. Ibaka added 16 points while being 1 rebound shy of yet another double-double, and Reggie Jackson shook off his recent cold streak with 14 points off of the Thunder bench.

Reggie Jackson, the man who provided 14 points off of the Thunder bench.

Reggie Jackson, the man who provided 14 points off of the Thunder bench.

The individual numbers Grizzlies players post in losses at times can astound you. Zach Randolph had the game’s lone double-double with a 13-point, 10-rebound performance. Marc Gasol provided 17 points of his own, while Tayshaun Prince posted 12 points, and Courtney Lee dropped 10. The Grizzlies bench deserves the bulk of the credit for keeping the game respectable, and one bench player in particular. While James Johnson contributed 11 bench points of his own, Mike Miller’s 19 bench points led all Grizzlies players, including the starters. Another interesting fact is all 19 of Miller’s points came in the 4th quarter, rendering him almost single-handedly responsible for the Grizzlies near-comeback. To put his 19 4th quarter points into better perspective, the rest of the team scored 17 combined in the 4th, with Kosta Koufos actually scoring 9 of those himself (Oddly enough, like Miller, all 9 of Koufos’ points also came in the 4th quarter, which were all bench points as well.). That bench easily helped keep the Grizzlies in this one, as 58 points by the starting five were met with 49 from the bench, although 30 came from just two players, Miller and Johnson. Now that I think about it though, the school of thought going into the 4th was that the game was already over, hence the lack of starters scoring for the Grizzlies in the 4th. All 36 of the Grizzlies 4th quarter points were bench points.

Mike Miller finds himself all alone as he shoots the floater. Miller's 19 points, all coming in the 4th quarter, were the catalyst in the Grizzlies' near-comeback.

Mike Miller finds himself all alone as he shoots the floater. Miller’s 19 points, all coming in the 4th quarter, were the catalyst for┬áthe Grizzlies’ near-comeback.

By the time you see this, the next game should be just getting started, rendering this part essentially pointless. However, the Thunder are hosting the Bobcats this evening. The Bobcats are looking to end the season series in a 1-1 split, as they took a heart-breaking 89-85 loss at home on Dec. 27th. The Thunder of course will be looking to sweep. The game is scheduled for 6pm tip-off at Chesapeake Energy Arena, but with the current weather conditions, I’d advise anyone planning to attend to be extra cautious on the roads this evening. The ones who don’t care to brave the elements can catch the game on Fox Sports Oklahoma or NBA League Pass. Those who can’t get to a TV, but have radio access can catch the game via WWLS The Sports Animal.

Grizzlies Crumble In The Face Of Ruthless Thunder Defense

Grizzlies Crumble In The Face Of Ruthless Thunder Defense

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.

Serge Ibaka tries to drive past Mark Gasol. Ibaka ended his night with a 21-point, 12-rebound double-double, while Gasol finished with 13 points.

Serge Ibaka tries to drive past Mark Gasol. Ibaka ended his night with a 21-point, 12-rebound double-double, while Gasol finished with 13 points.

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.

Thabo Sefolosha and Courtney Lee chase the loose ball. Lee finished the game with 11 points.

Thabo Sefolosha and Courtney Lee chase the loose ball. Lee finished the game with 11 points.

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.

Ibaka jams as Kevin Durant and Zach Randolph look on. Durant's 31 points led all scorers, but Randolph finished with a rather impressive 13-point, 13-rebound double-double.

Ibaka jams as Kevin Durant and Zach Randolph look on. Durant’s 31 points led all scorers, but Randolph finished with a rather impressive 13-point, 13-rebound double-double.

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.

Derek Fisher tries to hold off Mike Miller. Miller contributed 11 points from the Grizzlies bench.

Derek Fisher tries to hold off Mike Miller. Miller contributed 11 points from the Grizzlies bench.

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.

Durant dunks hard.

Durant dunks hard.

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.

Reggie Jackson tries to pull off the fadeaway over Gasol. Jackson ended the game with 12 points.

Reggie Jackson tries to pull off the fadeaway over Gasol. Jackson ended the game with 12 points.

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.

Durant and Ibaka celebrating just how badass they are.

Durant and Ibaka celebrating just how badass they are.

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.

Marc Gasol’s Surprise Return Too Much For The Thunder To Overcome

Marc Gasol’s Surprise Return Too Much For The Thunder To Overcome
Marc Gasol made a surprise return last night, finishing with 12 points.

Marc Gasol made a surprise return last night, finishing with 12 points.

It received a standing ovation at the Fed Ex Forum in Memphis, TN. If it had happened at Chesapeake Energy Arena, it would have perplexed Loud City into a moment of stunned silence. Despite being on the injury list mere hours before tip-off, Marc Gasol had informed the Grizzlies’ front office that his knee was ready to go, and that he wished to return to action. For a Grizzlies team desperately battling towards a .500 record, his admission was very welcome news, hence the standing ovation from the hometown crowd.

Serge Ibaka shoots over Ed Davis. Ibaka finished with 11 points.

Serge Ibaka shoots over Ed Davis. Ibaka finished with 11 points.

This was a close game pretty much the entire way. The Thunder’s largest lead all night was 7, and the Grizzlies largest lead was 12. In the end, Gasol’s return, combined with Zach Randolph’s presence, meant two gigantic bodies in the paint for the Grizzlies that killed opportunities at low-post points for the Thunder. Although the Thunder entered halftime up 47-43, the low-post defense of the Grizzlies really clamped down in the second half. That clamp-down made sure the Thunder rarely saw easy looks at the basket, and forced them to work for every bucket. Once all was said and done, the Thunder fell just short, as the Grizzlies claimed a 90-87 victory that puts them at 18-19 for the season, while dropping the Thunder to 28-10.

Zach Randoplh lays it in over Reggie Jackson. Randoplh finished with a 23-point, 13-rebound double-double, while Jackson ended his night with 17 points.

Zach Randolph lays it in over Reggie Jackson. Randolph finished with a 23-point, 13-rebound double-double, while Jackson ended his night with 17 points.

Kevin Durant’s 37 points led all scorers, but just wasn’t enough to get the job done. On the plus side, at least a couple of other Thunder players tried to pick up the slack. Reggie Jackson dropped 17 for the game, and Serge Ibaka contributed 11 points, while being 1 rebound shy of another double-double.

Mike Conley plays keep away from the Thunder. Conley finished the game with 19 points.

Mike Conley plays keep away from the Thunder. Conley finished the game with 19 points.

Gasol had 12 points in his return to action, while his low-post partner, Randolph, had a 23-point, 13-rebound double-double. Mike Conley dropped 19 points, and Courtney Lee led all Grizzlies scorers with 24.

Courtney Lee drives around Kevin Durant. Lee's 24 points led the Grizzlies, while Durant's 37 led all scorers.

Courtney Lee drives around Kevin Durant. Lee’s 24 points led the Grizzlies, while Durant’s 37 led all scorers.

The Thunder don’t have much time to lick their wounds, as they head to Toyota Center in Houston, TX to face the Rockets. While tip-off is listed at 8:30 pm CST, it is the back-end of TNT’s double-header. They often list tip-off for the second TNT game at 8:30 CST, but don’t usually tip until about 30 minutes to an hour later. If I were you, I’d expect it to be around 9pm to 9:30 pm CST. If you can’t get to a TV, or don’t have cable, you can also catch the broadcast on WWLS The Sports Animal.