Thunder silence Grizzlies in Game 1
By MICHAEL KINNEY, THE SPORTS XCHANGE
|Oklahoma City Thunder guard Reggie Jackson tries to get the crowd cheering to distract the free throw attempt by a Memphis Grizzlies forward Quincy Pondexter late in the second half of their Game 1 NBA Western Conference semi-final playoff basketball game in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma May 5, 2013. (REUTERS/Bill Waugh)
The Memphis Grizzlies have branded themselves as a team that plays hard-nosed, physical defense. Once the Grizzlies know what an opposing team likes to do, they clamp down and find a way to take it away.
However, when the Grizzlies faced Oklahoma City Sunday, they met up with a man who hasn’t seen a defense he can’t solve.
Kevin Durant scored 12 fourth-quarter points to lead the Thunder past Memphis 93-91 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, giving Oklahoma City a 1-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinal series.
“Kevin is a smart basketball player,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “He was a playmaker to his team. I thought he was great. I thought he did a great job in making the right decisions.”
Durant was particularly effective when his team needed him the most.
Trailing 90-87, Oklahoma City came up with a stop on defense. Durant then drove down court and hit a jumper to close the gap to one point with 30 seconds left.
Once again the Thunder made a defensive play. Derek Fisher deflected the ball to Durant and no time-out was called. Then, with Tayshaun Prince in his face, Durant drained a long jumper to give Oklahoma City a 91-90 advantage with 11.1 seconds on the clock.
“In any situation, (Durant) is going to be tough to guard,” Memphis guard Mike Conley said. “But obviously, when they didn’t call a time-out, it is tough to guard a guy when you’ve got a team backing up and you are trying to set up a defense. Either way, we were going to have our hands full.”
Memphis attempted to go to Marc Gasol, who passed it back out to Mike Conley. But Thabo Sefolosha forced the Grizzlies into a turnover with 3.5 seconds left.
Memphis fouled Reggie Jackson to send the second-year pro to the line under pressure. He calmly drained both free throws, putting the Thunder up by three.
However, Jackson fouled Memphis’ Quincy Pondexter while attempting a 3-pointer with 1.6 seconds left. With a chance to tie the score, Pondexter missed the first. He then made the second free throw and purposely missed the third, but the Thunder was unable to get the offensive rebound as the game ended.
“We couldn’t get a stop,” Gasol said. “If you are up three with a 1:30 left, you have to get a stop. We couldn’t get a stop. At the end they played a little better and made a lot of tough shots. We didn’t have too much luck.”
Durant finished with 35 points, 15 rebounds and six assists. But he was more impressed with the team defense the Thunder played down the stretch.
“I liked the way we stuck with our defense,” Durant said. “We bounced back and were resilient through it all. That shows maturity in our group. When we needed a stop, we got it.”
Kevin Martin came off the Thunder bench to score 25 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field. Jackson added 12 points.
Gasol paced Memphis with 20 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. Zach Randolph scored 18 points and had 10 rebounds. Conley chipped in with 13 points and three assists.
Oklahoma City couldn’t have started the game any worse than it did. The Thunder missed their first eight shots from the floor and spotted the Grizzlies a 7-0 advantage before the first time-out.
But Durant began to assert himself. There had been talk before the game that Prince could guard Durant by himself and free up the rest of the Grizzlies defenders. Durant put that to rest quickly with 10 points in the first quarter.
However, Memphis still led 16-14 heading into the second quarter.
Memphis went to Randolph in the second to settle the game down. He worked his way into the paint for a couple of soft jumpers over the Thunder big men.
Martin continued his hot shooting from Game 6 against the Rockets. He came out of the first-round series with more confident in his offensive skills. Instead of just settling for open 3-pointers, he began to take defenders off the dribble and create his own shot.
“It was moving the without the ball, guys getting screens and guys finding me,” Martin said. “We’ve got a nice little flow going right now. We’re just making an extra effort to get everyone involved.”
Oklahoma City led 47-46 at halftime.
Memphis owned the start of the third quarter. A 17-6 run was a continuation of the issues the Thunder have had coming out of halftime in the postseason.
It was the Grizzlies’ perimeter players that got the run started. Pondexter and Prince each knocked down open shots as the Oklahoma City defense sagged into the paint.
Despite that, Oklahoma City had an opportunity to get to within five with Martin at the free throw line and only three seconds on the clock. However, he missed the second attempt and Pondexter made him pay with a shot from just inside halfcourt as the quarter expired. Memphis led 73-64 but was unable to hang on.
“We had opportunities,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “We just didn’t execute as well offensively or defensively. They got in transition and Durant made some big buckets.”
NOTES: Memphis enters the Western Conference semifinals with a reputation as being the best defensive team in the playoffs. Only the Spurs in the Western Conference allowed fewer points in the first round than the Grizzlies. Oklahoma City is no slouch either. The Thunder are fifth in the playoffs in field goal percentage allowed at .424. Memphis is allowing teams to shoot .467. “That’s in their DNA. That’s what they do and that’s what we do,” Durant said. “Guys are going to go out there pushing and shoving. It’s going to be a really physical series. That’s what both teams do.” ... Oklahoma City is getting used to seeing a Gasol at this time of the year. Every season the franchise has been in the postseason, it has had to go through either Marc or Pau Gasol. The Thunder’s only loss to a Gasol came in 2009-10 when they lost to Pau Gasol and the Los Angeles Lakers. ... Free-throw shooting will continue to be an important factor for Memphis, which leads the league in attempts at 34.3 per game. Hollins said his team will not do anything different to keep getting there. “The last few years we’ve always gotten to the foul line. That’s just the way we play,” Hollins said. “When you go inside, if you attack the basket, you get offensive rebounds, you are going to get foul shots. If you just take jump shots ... the fewer free throws you are going to get.” ... For the second straight year Durant was runner-up in the MVP balloting, which was announced Sunday. He finished behind LeBron James, who received 120 of 121 total first-place votes to win award for the fourth time.