The Thunder eked out a win over the Grizzlies to enter All-Star Weekend on a high note.
MEMPHIS, TENN. — The Thunder called timeout with 1:10 left in a game that should have been over long before. One game left before the AllStar break, and another lead slipped away.
Russell Westbrook had a triple-double and he still wasn’t happy. He’d just missed the front end of two free throws. The Thunder’s once-22-point lead was down to four.
But Westbrook, bent over at his knees, a nanosecond off of belting out an expletive, took time to slap hands with Raymond Felton. The Thunder hadn’t lost, only given up the lead.
In the 121-114 win, the Thunder was able to escape from the hostile confines of FedEx Forum and into the All-Star break with winning plays. It was able to survive its slippage after the Grizzlies rallied with Steven Adams sidelined.
Before hitting a backbreaking 3-pointer with 24.9 seconds left to push the Thunder’s lead to four, Carmelo Anthony passed up the 3-pointer the Thunder wants him to take, took one step inside the line and canned a long two-pointer before giving a look to two smiling Grizzlies fans. The Thunder’s offense had stagnated after a scorching first half, but Anthony couldn’t help but smile to the raucous Memphis crowd which took every opportunity to bark at him and Westbrook as the Grizzlies rallied in the second half.
Anthony wore the same grin as he was bent over catching his breath around midcourt, as Westbrook pulled down a final rebound off a Grizzlies miss and set up to shoot free throws. Westbrook pointed to his head and laughed, looking toward the Grizzlies’ bench as Andrew Harrison was called for his second technical foul. The Grizzlies in the midst of a rally racked up four techs, frustrated with the fouls against them and those thought to be missing against OKC.
A possession prior, Westbrook came up with arguably the play of the game.
In a game in which the
Thunder’s defense was a step behind its offense, Westbrook blocked Tyreke Evans’s layup attempt. He and Anthony immediately lobbied to the officials to review the original call, fingers spinning just like in the Thunder’s loss against Milwaukee in December.
This time, the review reversed the call. The ball returned to the Thunder.
Billy Donovan calls them “winning plays,” even in games that shouldn’t be as close as Wednesday’s contest.
“That’s what really it comes down to,” Donovan said. “And sometimes those winning plays don’t necessarily show up in the stat sheet. It’s doing some different things to impact winning.”
File those types of plays Donovan described under “Steven Adams.”
The Thunder trailed 42-40 in the second quarter before Westbrook started dotting the Grizzlies with laser passes off screens from Adams. As soon as Westbrook turned the corner, he fired a lefthanded bullet to the corner closest to the Thunder’s bench. Patrick Patterson was the first beneficiary.
The Thunder went ahead 45-42. It was the start of a 23-4 avalanche.
Westbrook had six assists in the quarter, three coming when the Grizzlies shaded toward his penetrating drives and tried to sag in toward the paint to prevent Adams from catching lobs. The result was the space needed for Patterson, Felton and Paul George in the corner, as Memphis’s scheme called for the weakside defender to cheat inside to help on Adams.
The Thunder finished with a franchise-record 17 3-pointers. Twelve came in the first half under Adams’ gravitational pull.
The Thunder shot just 6-of-20 in the third quarter, 1-of-7 from 3-point range. Adams played less than 2½ minutes before picking up his fourth foul. It was a similar situation against Memphis earlier in the week, as the Grizzlies were able to cut into the lead with Adams sidelined.
“It changed the whole game,” Donovan said of Adams having to leave in the third quarter. “Steven is so valuable.
“He’s got to do a better job. We had a huge advantage coming out of the half. (Marc) Gasol had four, he had two. He’s got to be smart. The minute he picked up his third, he’s got to say ‘I’m not going to foul anymore.’”
“It’s stupid just to say ‘don’t foul,’” Adams said. “Obviously I knew my situation. It was a dumb foul as well. I should have just wrapped him up. I was trying not to foul, but the way he attacked, I still fouled him anyway and he finished the layup. Regardless, if you’re put in that situation when you’re in foul trouble, you’ve gotta take a couple steps back.”
When Adams went to the bench with four fouls, those corner 3-point opportunities diminished. George had 22 of his teamhigh 28 points before halftime. Anthony went 1-of-4 from 3-point range after halftime after starting 3-of-6.
But those winning plays, even against a lowly outfit like Memphis, were there when the Thunder needed them. A lead was lost. A game wasn’t.
Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams shoots against Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol in Wednesday’s game in Memphis, Tenn. The Thunder won, 121-114.
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook drives between Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, from left, guard Andrew Harrison, and guard Tyreke Evans with help from Thunder forward Paul George.
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Carmelo Anthony shoots ahead of Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol as Thunder center Steven Adams and Grizzlies forward Jarell Martin, far right, move for position during Wednesday’s game in Memphis, Tenn.