Despite double-digit performances from four different players, including 24 points and 12 rebounds from Zach Randolph, the Oklahoma City Thunder (3-0) outlasted the Memphis Grizzlies (0-2) 98-95 Wednesday night at FedExForum.
Memphis showed heart to fight back in a game in which it struggled throughout, but it’s clear this Grizzlies team has issues it needs to address. Memphis gave up 10 three-pointers against the Thunder and have now been outscored 60-15 beyond the arc in two games.
“When they started making threes, it was the difference in the game,” Memphis head coach Lionel Hollins said. “They took nine more threes than us and five more free throws than us, and we only lost by three points.”
Gay finished with 19 points and eight rebounds but took a team-high 24 shots. It’s still unclear how Gay will fit into the scoring rotation. Gay is a player that dominates the ball and is a ballstopper. Part of that makes him the great scorer that he is, but part of it also inhibits the Grizzlies’ ability to rotate the ball to find easy looks inside for Marc Gasol and Randolph. Perhaps, Memphis will look at using Gay in more situations where he can score quickly rather than using mostly isolation moves and jump shots.
Memphis struggled to find its groove early in the first quarter and didn’t score a bucket from the field until a layup from Zach Randolph nearly eight minutes to the game. Oklahoma City took advantage of the cold shooting to take an early 20-11 lead, but Memphis responded to get within 23-20 at the quarter’s end.
The Thunder used a similar strategy as the Spurs in game one, packing the paint and forcing the Grizzlies to make jumpers to create space. The lack of shooters on the roster again hurt Memphis, and Oklahoma City led by as much as 12 after a three-point play by Kendrick Perkins.
Backup point guard Jeremy Pargo, playing extensive minutes due to an early injury suffered by Mike Conley, provided a spark for Memphis in the latter half of the second quarter. The 25-year-old NBA rookie scored back-to-back buckets in the paint and helped Memphis close the deficit to 54-49 at halftime.
Sparked by four points from Pargo and tough defense, Memphis opened the second half on a 12-6 run to take its first lead at 61-60 after a fadeaway jumper by Randolph. The teams traded buckets until a Durant triple gave the Thunder a 72-67 lead. Josh Selby made an appearance with a fancy scoop for an old-fashioned play at the end of the quarter to cut the lead to 72-70 heading into the last quarter.
Another contested jumper from the right wing gave the Grizzlies a 76-75 lead with 9:38 to play, but OKC nailed two triples in the next three series as part of a 14-1 run that gave the Thunder an 89-77 advantage. Marc Gasol capped a 6-0 Grizzlies run with a strong drive down the lane to cut the lead to 89-83 with 3:47 to play.
Memphis refused to quit, playing with the grit and grind which became famous last season, and cut the lead down to 92-90 on a Rudy Gay fastbreak jumper with 58.6 seconds to play. Durant silenced the crowd on the next possession with a contested jumper that made it 94-90, but Memphis wasn’t done. Tony Allen came up with a steal on the next inbounds play that led to a slam by Gay and cut the lead to 94-92 with five seconds left. The Thunder hit clutch free throws, however and closed out the game 98-95 despite a late flurry by Memphis.
Durant led OKC with a game-high 32 points on 10-of-17 shooting, while James Harden added 20 points off the bench, Kendrick Perkins was the only other Thunder player to finish in double figures with 10 points to go along with four rebounds.
The Grizzlies return to action Friday when they host the Houston Rockets (0-1). Game time is scheduled for 7 p.m. at FedExForum.
– Jeremy Pargo: The sting of losing Greivis Vasquez may not be as bad as some people originally thought. Pargo gave Memphis huge minutes tonight, essentially playing as the starting point guard. He finished with 15 points and seven assists in 37 minutes. Pargo also played stellar defense on Russell Westbrook, limiting him to just four points.
– Points in the paint: Memphis finished with 44 points in the paint and 23 second-chance points. It seemed that Memphis came in to its own as the game went on and started to pound the ball inside.
“We started to find out pound the glass; we had 23 second-chance points,” Hollins said. “We played our game more as the game went on.”
-Three-point defense: As I mentioned before, Memphis has given up 10 triples to each of its first two opponents. On the flipside, the Grizzlies have only made five threes combined in their first two games. Memphis not only has to defend the arc better, but it also has to make some trifectas of its own.
-Lack of bench scoring: Not counting Pargo, Memphis only got 12 points off the bench, including seven from OJ Mayo. On a team desperate for shooters, Memphis is looking for him to fill that role and he just hasn’t been able to do that so far.