In a game that saw eight ties, 13 lead changes and no lead larger than eight points for either team, the Oklahoma City Thunder (9-2) outlasted the Memphis Grizzlies (3-6) 100-95 Tuesday night at FedExForum. Russell Westbrook scored a game-high 30 points, and Kevin Durant had 22 as OKC registered its second victory over Memphis this season. Marc Gasol led Memphis with 20 points and 14 rebounds, while Rudy Gay struggled from the floor, going just 7-of-21 en route to a lackluster 16 points.
The Grizzlies started hot in the first quarter, knocking down three early jumpers to take a 6-1 advantage. Oklahoma City responded with baskets from Durant and Westbrook, and came back to take a 12-10 lead midway through the quarter. The Grizzlies opened a 23-18 advantage after a jumper from newly-acquired Marreese Speights, but 12 first-quarter points from Westbrook coupled six from Durant allowed the Thunder to take a narrow 26-25 lead after the first period.
Depsite a James Harden triple to open the quarter, Memphis locked down on defense and used a 9-0 run to take a 38-33 lead with 5:54 to play in half. It would be the largest Grizzlies’ lead of the night. Oklahoma City fought back behind eight second-quarter points from Durant and took a 54-52 lead into the locker room after making four three throws in the final 12 seconds of the half.
Both teams opened the third quarter hustling and went back-and-forth before a fastbreak layup by Westbrook put OKC ahead for good at 67-66. Gay was blocked on consecutive shot attempts on the next Memphis possession, and the Thunder opened up the biggest lead of the game at 75-67 with 1:52 to play. Gasol brought Memphis back, closing the third with four-straight points and getting the Grizzlies within 75-71 with a quarter of basketball left.
Rudy Gay opened the final quarter with an old-fashioned three-point play that pulled Memphis with one point at 75-74. The Thunder then made a triple, but Gay responded again with a deep three to get Memphis back within 79-77 at the 10:35 mark. Oklahoma City pushed its lead back to as many as eight at 88-81 before a tough jumper by Gasol followed by an alley-oop from Mike Conley to Gat put Memphis within 88-85. This time, Kendrick Perkins answered for the Thunder, as the physical big man drove hard to the rim and finished the layup for a 90-85 OKC lead.
Trailing 95-89, Quincy Pondexter connected on a triple from the wing – his first bucket of the night – to close the gap to 95-92. Westbrook missed a contested shot on the ensuring Thunder possession, but a turnover by Gay on the next Memphis possession sealed the Grizzlies fate as Oklahoma City made its free throws and closed the game out 100-95.
As the game turned..
Memphis had several chances down the stretch to put pressure on the Thunder but squandered nearly every opportunity. With Memphis down four at 91-87, Gay missed two free throws and a Westbrook jumper on the next play pushed the OKC lead back to six. Gay had a chance to redeem himself later in the game as Memphis had the ball down three with under 30 seconds, but a double team forced a turnover and the Thunder polished off another victory with clutch free throws.
Grizzlies’ Grinder of the Game: Marc Gasol
As I saw many times on Twitter during the game, Gasol is developing his own phrase around the league: “No Call Gasol.” The moniker has been earned as Gasol seems to absorb way more contact without getting fouls called compared to other big men. Still, the Spaniard finished with a team-best 20 points and 14 rebounds.
Stat of the Night
Memphis got outrebounded by 12, 51-39 against OKC. Though Memphis had 40 points in the paint compared to 34 from the Thunder, the rebounding differential is troubling. Speights finished with just one rebound and seemed more comfortable playing away from the basket and shooting jumpers than bruising down low. Memphis will need him and Cunningham to bring a more physical presence down low to complement Gasol.
Quotable: Memphis head coach Lionel Hollins
On Rudy Gay’s recent struggles: “I think the whole NBA is knocking rust off; I don’t think it’s just one individual. It’s a tough league. He played hard, and he did some good things, but he couldn’t make shots. Sometimes that just happens.”
On Gasol and Conley playing 40+ minutes again: “We just have to try to go out and win each game. You can’t worry about it being a condensed season. I look at the stats every night, and every team is doing the same thing – playing ball.”
The Grizzlies will take on the New York Knicks for the first time this season on Thursday at 7 p.m. The game is slated to be televised nationally on TNT. It’s crucial that Memphis win Thursday, as New York will be playing a back-to-back after taking on the 76ers Wednesday night in Philadelphia. The Grizzlies would like to be 5-6 heading into Monday’s MLK Day game against Chicago.
Preston McClellan covers the Grizzlies for MemphiSport. Follow him on Twitter @p_mcclellan.
– Photo by Justin Ford
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