The Oklahoma City Thunder survived a major scare at home in Game 1 of their first-round series with the Memphis Grizzlies. After watching a 22-point lead dwindle to only two points in the second half, OKC earned a 100-86 win.
As the NBA tweeted out, the Thunder were the first home team to win among Saturday's four first-round games:
Kevin Durant did Kevin Durant things, leading the way with 33 points on 13-of-25 shooting. The Thunder needed each and every one of those points, since Russell Westbrook was at some points impressive and others confounding. He shot 6-of-10 in the first half and scored 16 points. In the second half, he went 2-of-9 and ended up with 23 points for the entire game. The Thunder star missed all five of his three-point attempts.
USA Today's Dan Wolken wonders if Westbrook's erratic performances could end up sinking the Thunder down the line:
This is fool’s gold for OKC unless Westbrook tightens up. Horrible game from him.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) April 20, 2014
Zach Randolph had a double-double for the Grizzlies, scoring 21 points and grabbing 11 boards. Mike Conley also recorded a double-double, with 16 points and 11 assists. Marc Gasol added 16 points of his own.
|(8) Memphis Grizzlies||16||18||31||21||86|
|(1) Oklahoma City Thunder||29||27||13||31||100|
One of the biggest problems for the Grizzlies in the first half was that they couldn't knock anything down outside of the paint. Perimeter shooting was one of Memphis' concerns coming in, since it ranked last in made three-pointers and 19th in three-point percentage during the regular season.
Nobody could've seen the Grizzlies being this bad, though, per ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh:
Memphis 1-19 FG outside the paint. Fewest FG in a playoff first-half since ORL vs. BOS 5/16/10.— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) April 20, 2014
Royce Young of the Daily Thunder posted the Grizzlies' shot chart, and it was a sea of red:
Grizzlies' first half shot chart is redder than Russell Westbrook's outfit: http://t.co/uXnlocNsqN— Royce Young (@royceyoung) April 20, 2014
Durant and Westbrook combined for almost as many points as the entire Memphis team in the first half, per NBA on ESPN:
Memphis kept funneling the ball into the post, where Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams and Nick Collison were all too happy to send shots away and start the transition quickly. The Thunder scored 21 points on the fast break in the first half, compared to six for their opponents.
Conley was succinct with his prognosis of the first half:
Mike Conley: "We were embarrassed in the first half, quite frankly."— Royce Young (@royceyoung) April 20, 2014
Clearly, the Grizzlies would be better at halftime, but the question was whether they had dug themselves into too deep of a hole. Closing a 22-point gap on the road against the Thunder is extremely difficult.
What made Memphis' job in the second half even harder was the absence of Tayshaun Prince, who was suffering from a stomach virus:
Tayshaun Prince (stomach virus) will not return for the second half. #MEMvsOKC— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) April 20, 2014
Although the veteran forward can't match up with Durant talent-wise, he was at least a long-armed defender whom head coach Dave Joerger could deploy on the Thunder star.
All you have to do is look at the box score to see how quickly the roles had reversed between the two teams in the third quarter. Suddenly, the Thunder couldn't execute on the offensive end, and their defense was nonexistent on the other end of the court.
"Bad Russ" took the place of "Good Russ," as Westbrook was attempting ill-advised long-range shots, the majority of which weren't going down.
As a team, the Thunder shot 3-of-16 in the third quarter:
Not only that, Oklahoma City was getting absolutely killed in the paint, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Grizzlies outscored the Thunder 22-2 in the paint in the 3rd quarter— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 20, 2014
SB Nation's Mike Prada pointed out that the Thunder can be prone to periods of bad basketball, which allowed the Grizzlies to get back into the game:
No question OKC is a spurt team. When the other team is scoring on them, they can’t run and their half-court offense can be rough— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) April 20, 2014
Of course, keeping that in mind, OKC had to have a good run left, and it came in the fourth quarter.
Memphis closed the gap to only two points, 74-72, with eight minutes and 45 seconds to go, but that was as close as it got to pulling off the improbable comeback. Slowly but surely, the Thunder regained their footing and built their lead back up to double digits.
Two things were working against the Grizzlies in the fourth quarter. First was that Randolph had been working with five fouls for the last 9:52 of the game. Second was that Joerger worked for a large stretch of the second half without making a single substitution:
Grizzlies have made an incredible comeback here in OKC but Dave Joerger hasn't made a sub in 2nd half yet.— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) April 20, 2014
When Randolph got his fifth, he made way for Ed Davis. That was the first time Joerger made a personnel switch. In short, fatigue became an issue for Memphis in the fourth quarter, which prevented the Grizzlies from really knocking the Thunder out when they were on the ropes.
The moment when the game inevitably swung toward OKC was with 8:56 to go in the game, when 34-year-old Caron Butler threw down a ferocious one-handed jam.
Thunder head coach Scott Brooks credited that dunk with giving his team that last push it needed to close out the game, per the Thunder's Twitter account:
Coach Brooks, Caron Butler's dunk in the 2nd half "gave us the spark" to finish with the win.— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) April 20, 2014
The teams have Sunday off, with Game 2 on Monday night at 8 p.m. ET. It will be interesting to see how each team approaches the game.
Both the Grizzlies and Thunder had good spells in Game 1, but they have some problems that will need to be addressed. OKC must display much better consistency, Westbrook in particular, while the Grizzlies need more than three points out of Mike Miller. Without any three-point offense, they're done.
If Oklahoma City takes Game 2, that could very well be the end of the series. As good as Memphis is, you don't see that team being able to take four out of six games to advance.