Thunder Bent But Didn't Break
By Randy Renner
The Oklahoma City Thunder almost, almost gave away every bit of a 25 point lead over the Memphis Grizzlies but just when things looked their worst they got better.
The Thunder went on a sizzling 13-1 run after Memphis had cut that big lead down to just two points and beat the Grizzlies 100-86.
"We never broke," said Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook. "We did a great job of staying together."
Westbrook finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds. Kevin Durant led all scorers with 32 (13 in the fourth quarter).
"It's about bending but not breaking," Durant said. "We knew that they were going to come out and keep fighting, it's what they do. We just stayed together and made plays in that fourth quarter."
One of the biggest was driving dunk by Caron Butler. Butler never does that but his slam got Thunder fans back on their feet and Thunder players back in the game.
"It ignited the crowd and got us going," Durant agreed.
"Caron's dunk probably surprised 18,203 fans who were here, our staff and our players, but that really sparked us," said Thunder head coach Scott Brooks.
After a terrible third quarter that saw the Thunder outscored 31-13 on just 18.8 percent shooting something and someone needed to light a fire.
It was a shocking turnaround in a game that had been a blazing Thunder success in the first half. Memphis couldn't do anything right. The Grizzlies looked slow and confused and that's not a very good combination to have when you're playing a team like the Thunder.
"They came out runnin' and we weren't getting back in transition and that was the one thing we had to do," Grizz point guard Mike Conley said. "We were embarrassed in the first half."
The Grizzlies started the game 1-for-9 while the Thunder went 7-for-8 and Thunder fans threatened to blow the roof off Chesapeake Energy Arena.
James Johnson walked into a 28-foot 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds to go in the half and that seemed to give the Grizzlies a little something to work with. That combined with the Thunder coming out in the third quarter with their heads not in the game added up to a big rally that almost quieted the party.
"I didn't come out with the energy I needed to in the third quarter," Westbrook admitted. "I had some bad turnovers so I've gotta do a better job of that."
All in all though the Thunder did what they needed to win Game 1. Brooks wanted his team to start fast and they did. He said he wanted to keep Memphis off the boards and they did a good job of that too, outrebounding the Grizzlies 51-41.
And even though they gave up 13 offensive rebounds the Grizzlies only converted them into nine points going 3-for-12 in second chance opportunities.
The Thunder bigs controlled both Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, holding them to a combined 14-for-40 shooting and the Thunder were able to get out in transition scoring a whopping 32 fast break points.
After the game Brooks was asked if he'd rather have been able to roll to a blowout win or did he like it that his team faced adversity but overcame it?
"Winning is all that matters," Brooks answered and he's absolutely right. "We talk all the time about how it's all about just getting wins. It's the first team to four."
And right now the Thunder are a quarter of the way home in round one.