Oklahoma City Thunder v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Four

Grizzlies come from 17 down, take 3-1 series lead with Game 4 overtime win over Thunder


The Thunder were going to need otherworldly performances out of Kevin Durant in every game they planned on winning against the Grizzlies in this series. And even then, there was no guarantee that victory would be theirs, considering the fact that they’d need at least one other person to step up and deliver an above average performance offensively to get the job done.

Without big numbers and a stellar overall performance from the team’s one remaining superstar, however, Oklahoma City was going to struggle. That ended up being the case in Game 4, as Durant finished 10-of-27 from the field while the Grizzlies came back from a 17-point first half deficit to get the 103-97 overtime victory.

Memphis now leads the best-of-seven series three games to one, and is just a single win away from a trip to the Conference finals.

Oklahoma City began the game by bringing the necessary intensity required to win a pivotal playoff game on the road, and jumped out to an 11-point lead at the end of the first quarter. Durant started by hitting two of his first three shots, and Serge Ibaka, who was much maligned after missing plenty of easy and open shots in Game 3 managed to come out strong with nine points in the opening period, on the way to 13 and 10 rebounds by halftime.

The Thunder looked poised to cruise in this one after getting out to that 17-point lead midway through the second quarter, but Memphis began its comeback by finishing the half on a 19-10 run to cut the OKC lead to single digits.

In the third quarter, the Thunder had briefly pushed their lead back to 12, and had it steady around seven or eight points for most of the period. But those final four-plus minutes were once again a killer, as the Grizzlies finished the period on a 13-4 run to tie the game heading into the fourth.

The final period was tight throughout, and this is where Durant simply couldn’t do enough to get his team over the hump. He had eight shot attempts in the period — as many as the rest of his teammates combined — and connected on only two. One of them was huge, however, coming on a drive and a scoop with the Thunder down two and six seconds remaining to tie the game and send it to an overtime session.

Once overtime began, the Thunder couldn’t hit a shot. Durant was 0-for-5 in the five minute extra frame, and the team was just 1-of-8.

The Grizzlies got big nights out of both Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, and got enough out of Mike Conley, who finished with a team high 24 points despite his 7-of-21 shooting. But just like every other game in this series, the losing team had their chances to win it in the game’s final few minutes.

It was a fantastic win for Memphis, in what is becoming an increasingly more impressive run through these playoffs. On the Thunder side, Durant just couldn’t do enough on this night to drag his team over the finish line.

51 Questions: Is Mike Malone the key to bringing Denver back?

Michael Malone
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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Is Mike Malone the key to bringing Denver back?

One incident sums up how bad things had gotten in Denver under the Brian Shaw regime — breaking a fourth-quarter huddle in the final game of February, Nuggets players chanted “1-2-3-six weeks!”

The players didn’t like the coach, some of them didn’t like each other, and with six weeks and 24 games left in the season they had checked out. The young players (and some of the veterans) partied so much Shaw canceled shootarounds because guys couldn’t roll in for them in the morning. Shaw had lost the team long before when he’d tried to fit square pegs into the triangle holes of his offense, and it spiraled out of control from there. The culture in Denver was broken.

Mike Malone was brought in to repair that culture.

The Jeff Van Gundy disciple has shown he can do that before. Malone was starting to build something in Sacramento (they started last season 9-6 before DeMarcus Cousins got sick), where he was asked to repair a franchise culture that by the end of the Maloof era was something akin to the Lord of the Flies. Malone also turned out to be the one coach who had gotten through to Cousins. Even with his defensive mindset and Cousins in the paint, Malone had the Kings playing at the eighth-fastest pace in the league in pace, but the Kings’ owner wanted to play faster (and maybe didn’t want to miss out on the chance to hire George Karl), so Malone got sacked.

The question becomes, is Malone alone going to turn things around in Denver and bring them back to relevance?

Not alone, and not just in one season, but he will get them on the right track.

The first step to show management was behind Malone was the trading of Ty Lawson. No doubt when focused Lawson is a quality point guard (as Houston likely benefits from this season), but he was part of the problem in the end in Denver, to the point of picking up two DUIs in six months (he checked into a rehab facility after the second one). He had mentally checked out and his example was an issue the Nuggets needed to change.

That turns the keys for the offense over to rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who impressed a lot of people at Summer League after bailing on SMU to play in China last season. But he’s still a rookie with a long way to go — as the 15 turnovers in his first two preseason games attest. Things that worked in China and Summer League don’t fly against an NBA defense.

With Mudiay at the point and a team that plays half its games at high altitude, Monroe wants to take advantage of that and get out and run. Expect the Nuggets to get back to their traditional up-tempo games, but with some things Malone loves to run (such as the Rick Adelman corner action).

But for Malone, all things — including good transition basketball — starts with defense. You have to get stops and steals to run well, and the Nuggets were 26th in the league in defensive rating last season (105.5 points allowed per 100 possessions). In the first two Nuggets preseason games, that was the Nuggets focus (with mixed results).

Malone’s challenge starts with getting Kenneth Faried to buy in and play as hard on defense as he does on offense — something Faried has never done. Faried has been a defensive minus since he entered the NBA and that becomes one of Malone’s first major projects (even if it’s just to boost Faried’s trade value). Faried, who clashed with Shaw over his role, has said he’s felt energized under Malone, now the coach just has to steer that energy to the defensive end of the court.

Malone will be searching for the right center to put next to Faried, and I expect that will mean a lot of Jusuf Nurkic (who is young and shows it at times). But also expect to see some small-ball lineups with Faried at the five. Something like Mudiay, Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, and Faried. A lineup with some athleticism and shooting that could put up points, but would they get any stops? If Gary Harris slots in for Foye, does that help the defense (Harris is guy Nuggets fans may see more and more of as the season goes on).

The roster is a work in progress, and if you were to bet on the Nuggets doing one thing this season, it should be making trades. Things are going to change.

There are nice pieces on the Nuggets, but not enough of them and with some real questions about how it all fits together. This is not a playoff team this season, not in the West.

But it’s a team that Malone could have playing a lot better late in the season than at the beginning, once some of those questions start to be answered, and the young players gain experience. That should be the goal in Denver. Begin to change the culture, get buy-in on the system, get guys playing hard again rather than dreaming of Cancun vacations by February. Change can be incremental, but Malone will start the change.

Then in a couple of years, you’ve got the team you want.

Well, so long as the Nuggets ownership doesn’t get impatient and decide it needs to change directions again.

Another Pelicans center down: Omer Asik out three weeks

Omer Asik, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver
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The Pelicans will have to play Anthony Davis at center now.

With backup center Alexis Ajinca already sidelined, starting center Omer Asik suffered his own injury.

Pelicans release:

The New Orleans Pelicans announced today that center Omer Asik is expected to miss the next three weeks with a right calf strain. The injury occurred during Wednesday’s practice.

If that three-week timeline is firm, Asik would miss two regular season games – at Warriors and at Trail Blazers.

Davis figured to be the most natural fit at center in Alvin Gentry’s up-tempo scheme. What happens if the Pelicans excel with him there and then stumble once Asik and Ajinca return? Because New Orleans had Bird Rights for Asik and Ajinca, re-signing them made some sense. And once they’re re-signed, Gentry must find a role for them. But that could get harder if it becomes obvious the team is best with Davis at center.

As long as Asik and Ajinca are out, Kendrick Perkins probably moves into the rotation. Jeff Adrien could also see minutes at center. Suddenly, Adrien, on an unguaranteed contract, has a much better chance of making the regular-season roster. Ryan Anderson probably plays more at power forward, too, with Davis logging more time at center.