Mem­phis’ blues

The Thun­der eked out a win over the Griz­zlies to en­ter All-Star Week­end on a high note.

The Oklahoman - - FRONT PAGE - Erik Horne ehorne@ oklahoman. com

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.