Zach Randolph, Mike Conley

Memphis’ defense, discipline propel them past Thunder in overtime, lead series 2-1

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Whatever Russell Westbrook wants to call the arena in Memphis, it’s going to show up in his nightmares now.

Westbrook and Kevin Durant combined for 60 points but shot a combined 34 percent and were 4-of-21 from three — there is no third scoring option that Memphis fears (or should fear) and if those two aren’t efficient you can contain the Thunder. Especially when the Thunder offense becomes stagnant and their shot selection is poor.

Which is exactly what happened for three-and-a-half quarters and had Memphis in complete control of the game… and then things got crazy.The Thunder went on a 17-0 fourth quarter run and tied the game up. Memphis got back-to-back buckets from Tony Allen. Oklahoma City got a four-point play when Allen fouled Westbrook on a three. Then we all got overtime.

That overtime saw the Grizzlies go up 5 and hang on as the Thunder missed more good look threes at the end and Memphis hung on for a 98-95 win.

That gives the Grizzlies a 2-1 lead in the series, with Game 4 at their place Saturday night. Memphis is in control of this series and can take a stranglehold of it with a win.

This is the second game in a row where the Grizzlies blew a big lead but didn’t lose their heads (despite a couple of silly fouls by Tony Allen) — even after that ugly fourth quarter stretch they got back to their game and executed.

Oklahoma City looked scattered. And they missed a lot of good looks on the night on the road. They were not the composed team. You saw why in the first half — and why the FedEx Forum is The Grindhouse no matter what Westbrook thinks.

The Grizzlies’ defense contested seemingly everything in the first half. Oklahoma City scored 36 points on 36.8 percent shooting in the first half, with just five fast break points. Kevin Durant had 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting, Russell Westbrook had 9, Serge Ibaka had 8, and combined that trio shot 45.8 percent. The rest of the Thunder combined had 7 points on 3-of-14 shooting.

This looked like a blowout before things just got ridiculous.

Oklahoma City found its offensive game and a sense of desperation. The Grizzlies seemed to play the clock not the opponent — they would go deep into the shot clock to eat up time before starting their set, but that just led to bad shots. The result was no Memphis points for more than six minutes and a 17-0 OKC run to tie the game at 81-81.

But Memphis didn’t lose it’s head — Allen made a good drive for a dunk, then on the Thunder’s ensuing possession Allen stole a lazy Westbrook pass to Durant and t with a fast break finish the Grizzlies were up four.

Then this happened.

The score was soon tied and, after both teams missed opportunities, we were headed to overtime.

Durant scored first in the OT but then the Grizzlies went on a 7-0 run. That was the game breaker. In overtime again the Grizzlies were able to get good looks and get stops. They were disciplined and true to themselves, and they got the win.

Mike Conley had another brilliant game with 20 points on 14 shots. Tony Allen and Zach Randolph each had 16 points (but it took 20 shots to do it). Marc Gasol had 14 points and was an offensive lynchpin for long stretches of the game.

On the other side Ibaka finished with 12 points and was only one of three Thunder players in double figures.

There is not one simple issue for the Thunder — they miss a third shot creator, their sets can be unimaginative and too easy to guard, their defense has been lacking. All of those are part of the last two losses. But the Thunder is a team capable of big spurts and big shots, capable of winning big games on the road.

Oklahoma City’s real biggest problem is that Memphis is a very good team, and one that is a matchup problem for them.

Watch Kyle Lowry’s tip-pass alley-oop to Jimmy Butler in USA win

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There were a lot of ugly things for Team USA in its exhibition win over Venezuela — the 4-of-25 shooting from three comes to mind. There was more, it was not a strong offensive performance from Team USA.

But like usual, we can overwhelm teams with athleticism, and that means wins and highlights. Like Kyle Lowry‘s tip-pass alley-oop to Jimmy Butler.

Or DeMar DeRozan‘s late-game windmill dunk.

Kyrie Irving helps USA to ugly 80-45 win over Venezuela

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 26:  Kyrie Irving #10 of the United States Men's National Team looks to make a move with the ball against the China Men's National Team during the first half of a USA Basketball showcase exhibition game at ORACLE Arena on July 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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CHICAGO (AP) — Kyrie Irving scored 13 points, DeMarcus Cousins powered a dominant performance in the paint, and the United States pulled away from Venezuela for an ugly 80-45 exhibition victory Friday night.

Coming off three straight flashy victories in Las Vegas and California, the United States shot 42.4 percent from the field and committed 13 turnovers in by far its worst offensive performance of its five-city tour in preparation for next week’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics. But the Americans used their superior athleticism to limit Venezuela to 24 percent shooting and owned the interior with a 54-29 rebounding advantage.

Returning to Chicago for the first time with the U.S. national team, Bulls star Jimmy Butler was cheered every time he was announced at the United Center. He had four points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes in his first start with Team USA.

Butler had one of the few electric plays for the U.S. when he ran out on the break and dunked Kyle Lowry‘s tip pass in the fourth quarter. DeAndre Jordan also had a vicious dunk off a lob from Kevin Durant, and DeMar DeRozan drew chants of “USA! USA!” with a windmill jam in the final minutes.

Klay Thompson also scored 13 points, and Cousins finished with seven points and 12 rebounds. Durant had nine points of 3-of-9 shooting.

John Cox scored 14 points for Venezuela, which will play the U.S. again on Aug. 8 in the Olympics.

Irving and company were greeted with a round of hearty cheers when they came out for pregame warmups. Fans lined the side of the court where the Americans had their layup line, and Anthony and Durant posed for pictures with a couple of eager boys.

Before Butler’s introduction drew the most applause of the night, former Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau received a thunderous ovation when he was announced with the U.S. coaching staff. Thibodeau took a year off after he was fired by the Bulls in May 2015, and then was hired as Minnesota’s coach and president of basketball operations in April.

The star power also extended to the sideline near the U.S. bench, where former Olympians Scottie Pippen and Dwyane Wade watched the action attentively. Wade was joined by his wife, actress Gabriel Union, hours after he held his introductory press conference for his new contract with his hometown Bulls.

Pippen played on the 1992 Dream Team that rolled to gold in Barcelona, and also helped the U.S. win gold in 1996. Wade was on the Americans’ gold medal-winning teams at each of the last two Olympics.

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

Monty Williams is back coaching with Team USA, ready to get back on NBA sidelines

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 18:  Draymond Green #14 of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team drives against assistant coach Monty Williams of the 2016 USA Basketball Men's National Team during a practice session at the Mendenhall Center on July 18, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Watching Monty Williams back on the court at the USA basketball camp/practices in Las Vegas, you could see he was at home. He’s easily the best 44-year-old defender on the planet — he went toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, and the rest, was physical, and made them work for buckets. Then he’d instruct. He’s just a natural.

Back in February, Williams’ wife was killed in an auto accident. It devastated the devout family man, in ways it’s hard for us to understand who have never experienced it. He walked away from coaching the rest of the NBA season with the Thunder, and nobody questioned it for a second.

Now, after getting his feet wet with Team USA (where he is an assistant to Mike Krzyzewski), he told Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman he is ready to get back on the sidelines.

“I wouldn’t even think that if I didn’t know, one, my wife would want me to; my kids talk about it all the time. And there have been some things that have happened in my life lately that have allowed me to get that back. I’m so juiced up and ready to get back into it again.”

He is one of the better respected assistant coaches in the league, and a guy who will get another shot at a top spot someday. Soon. Can’t wait to see him back on the sidelines.

Ben Simmons says he plans to work on shooting, handles, getting stronger before camp

Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons cheers from the bunch during the first half of the team's NBA summer league basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Thursday, July 14, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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The leap from college — even high-level college programs — to the NBA can be hard to describe. Now everybody is bigger, longer, and far more athletic — the guy at the end of the bench barely getting any burn was one of the best players on his college team.

Players get their first taste of that at Summer League. The Sixers’ No. 1 pick Ben Simmons looked pretty good when he got that taste, but you can see the development that needs to go on as well.

He’s spending the time between now and the start of training camp working on his shooting and getting stronger, among other things, he told Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com.

“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”

All good things. Handles and shooting in particular — he’s about to start seeing much better defenders nightly. It’s going to take time, and we’ll see how far he can go, but Simmons unquestionably brings a lot of skill and potential to the table. That he’s putting in the work is a good sign — that was one of the concerns about him heading into the draft.

New GM Bryan Colangelo is going to benefit from Sam Hinkie’s process. So long as he doesn’t screw it up.