The Memphis Grizzlies look like a team ready to compete in the postseason. The Thunder look like a team still searching for answers.
The result of the meeting between these two teams reflected that on Wednesday, as Memphis had little trouble in cruising to a convincing 107-97 win in Oklahoma City.
When we last saw the Grizzlies, they were blowing out the defending champion Heat by 18 points. In OKC, the result against the team Miami beat in the Finals last June was essentially the same, after Memphis spotted the home team a 10-point first quarter lead.
It all began to go wrong for the Thunder in the second quarter, once the bench unit couldn’t seem to manufacture any offense, and couldn’t even begin to stop the Grizzlies defensively. Memphis, which has won six straight since an opening-game loss, outscored OKC 36-15 in the period, led by 11 from Quincy Pondexter behind 3-of-3 shooting from three-point distance.
Kevin Martin played all 12 minutes of the second, and managed just two points. Eric Maynor and Hasheem Thabeet were essentially zeroes on both ends of the court in the few minutes they were out there, and Russell Westbrook had a rough first half from the field, hitting on just one of his eight shots, though he did manage eight assists.
Watching Memphis play you get a very Spurs-like vibe at this point in the young season, in that the execution and ball movement — as well as the rotations defensively — seem to be well ahead of the curve of where most teams are at this early stage.
On the Thunder side, it might seem like lazy analysis to say that they are searching to fill the huge void left by the James Harden trade, but it’s absolutely the truth. Scott Brooks has long been criticized for his lack of creativity in designing offensive sets for this Thunder squad, and now more than ever that weakness is becoming more and more glaring with each passing game.
There is no ball movement and no motion from players away from the ball on the majority of OKC’s possessions; the ball handler is lucky if he gets a screen from a big, and then is forced to execute a pick and roll or drive and kick to someone else. Harden is an exceptional playmaker who can score if he chooses, and his ability to do that, especially playing alongside Kevin Durant and Westbrook with the team’s crunch time lineup, is sorely missed.
Durant finished with 34 points, but he had to play 44 minutes to get there. It was his first 30-point effort on the season. He was nearly matched by Rudy Gay’s 28, and Memphis got more-than-solid performances from Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
Randolph and Kendrick Perkins were both ejected with 2:05 to play for what seemed like just words, but the game had already been decided.
Memphis was the sharper and more active team on this night, and it really wasn’t that close. The Grizzlies have the talent to compete with anyone all season long, and have shown it without a doubt in their last two games.
Meanwhile, OKC will need to improve dramatically on both ends of the floor to be considered one of the Western Conference elites once again, but the good news is that they have 73 more regular season games to get themselves straightened out.