Oklahoma City was in control. They had Game 3. Russell Westbrook was dishing (he had 12 assists) and the Thunder were rolling. They were controlling the Grizzlies in the paint enough to get the win.
But when Westbrook starts to do his Derrick Rose impression, the Thunder’s offensive balance falls apart. Memphis upped its defensive pressure and he seemed to try and dribble the clock out to eat up game time, but the Thunder’s shots ended up being contested jumpers. When Kevin Durant did get the ball he was out by the arc with the time running down. Westbrook and the entire Thunder team stopped attacking.
Meanwhile the Grizzlies got the ball inside and made shots. It’s what they do. They executed better than they had for the first three quarters. They played smart and hit shots.
And they sent it to overtime, where the Grizzlies won.
In this game, the Grizzlies know they need to play 48 minutes like they did for the final 10 minutes, but they will be able to approach that with more confidence. They need to again get some offensive balance from O.J. Mayo (he made OKC pay for its attention on Zach Randolph), and Randolph and Marc Gasol need to again have good games. Mayo had a good defensive stint against Westbrook in the fourth, that would be a big help if he can duplicate it.
Memphis cannot have just one good quarter, it needs a good game.
And all of that might not matter if the Thunder are playing up to their potential. This is a team learning how to be champions, and that comes with some hard lessons. Like not going away from your offense at the end of games, keeping your foot on the gas. The Grizzlies cannot stop Durant if he gets the ball in good position (although Tony Allen has done a solid job), they cannot stop Westbrook when he is attacking but also is willing to set up teammates. The Thunder can stop themselves.
If the Thunder can limit turnovers and attack the basket, they may be able to even this series. But it will not be easy. You become a champion by having to get better with every test. If that’s where the Thunder see themselves, there are lessons they need to learn from this series. And they need to start applying them now.
Russell Westbrook might not want to talk about his supporting cast distinctively, but it’s a real issue for the Thunder, who trail the Rockets 3-1 in their first-round series.
Even Andre Roberson, who has impressively defended James Harden, brings a glaring weakness: free throws. Roberson is 2-for-17 from the line in the playoffs, including 2-for-12 in Game 4 yesterday. Houston even repeatedly intentionally fouled him late.
It was agonizing for all but the most partisan Rockets supporters – though even Houston’s bench, while at least implicitly mocking Roberson, appeared put off that he missed yet again.
Isaiah Thomas previously explained his emotions in a statement, but the Celtics guard spoke publicly yesterday for the first time since the death of his sister in a car crash just before the playoffs.
Thomas, via A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN Northeast:
“Mentally and emotionally I’m not here,” Thomas said after Game 4, the first time he has spoken publicly since his sister’s death. “So I just feed off of what the guys give me. They give me a lot of confidence. I can’t do it without those guys. They believe in me. Being here is what makes me sane and makes me feel somewhat normal through these tough times.”
Thomas has played well for Boston, which won twice in Chicago to even its series with the Bulls, 2-2. It’s remarkable considering the heavy emotional burden and extra travel, going to Seattle for his sister’s funeral then joining the Celtics in Chicago.
His teammates have clearly rallied around him, and that surely helps. But I can’t even imagine how he’s simultaneously handling such a tragic family situation and the biggest games of his career.
Pacers super fan Matt Asen brings his lucky flamingo to each game.
He also annoyed the heck out of Kyrie Irving by trying to hand it, rather than the ball, to the Cavaliers guard.
James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.
He didn’t even rank second – or third.
Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.
What happened to the Houston star?
Calvin Watkins of ESPN:
Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.
“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”
Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.
But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.