Zach Randolph, Mike Conley

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


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.

Charles Barkley: Klay Thompson is a better player than Kevin Durant

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You know the NBA season is back when Charles Barkley is just talking out his… er, saying ridiculous things.

On Inside the NBA before the tip off of San Antonio thrashing Golden State, Barkley said then tried to defend the idea that Klay Thompson is a better all-around player than Kevin Durant. It was vintage Barkley — and it’s what makes the barbershop feel of Inside the NBA must-watch television every week.

The flaw in Barkley’s argument is that he tries to use the “two-way player” argument to try and balance out Durant’s and Thompson’s offensive contributions. Is Thompson a better defender than Durant? Yes. Even though people underestimate Durant’s defense a little, I will stipulate Thompson is a better defender. But does that defense make up for how much more offensive versatility and shot creation Durant brings to the table compared to Thompson? No. Again, Thompson is an excellent offensive player and probably the second best shooter in the game, but he does not create shots or force a defense to adjust the way Durant does. KD’s amazing offense tips the scales more than Thompson’s defense. KD is the better overall player.

And The Jet is way too quick to dismiss Kawhi Leonard as maybe the second best player in the league. But Leonard made his case just after these comments.

Watch Jonathan Simmons posterize JaVale McGee

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This was the exclamation point on the Spurs thrashing of the Warriors on opening night.

Jonathan Simmons — who was a beast in the first half and finished the night with 20 points off the bench — was pounding the ball out top, then as the clock wound down blew by rookie Patrick McCaw, got into the lane looking for the two-handed slam. When JaVale McGee slid over to contest Simmons switched to the one-hander and finished over the big man.

That’s the way to start an NBA season.

Three things we learned Tuesday: Kawhi’s Spurs are not to be trifled with

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 25:  Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs dribbles the ball up court against the Golden State Warriors during the third quarter in an NBA basketball game at ORACLE Arena on October 25, 2016 Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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The NBA season has returned, and we are back with our morning recap of what you need to know from the night before around the NBA — three things we learned. So if you were busy watching the Cubs bats go cold, here is what you missed.

1) The Spurs are Kawhi Leonard’s team — and they are magnificent. Every year we give lip service to the “don’t sleep on the Spurs” idea, and then we get wrapped up talking about some other bright, shiny new object. Like say a move from Oklahoma City to the Bay Area. We do exactly what we said we weren’t going to do.

Then San Antonio reminds us they are fierce competitors and contenders. Tuesday night the Spurs went into Oracle Arena and slapped Kevin Durant and the Warriors around. This was an old-school beatdown. In a game where the Warriors had the winners of the last three MVP awards, Kawhi Leonard was the best player on the court — a career-high 35 points on 21 shots, he got to the line 15 times, and he had five steals. Tim Duncan is gone and this is now Leonard’s team, without question. He was simply unfair, just torturing the Warriors on both ends and leading a physical Spurs team that dominated the glass — the Spurs had 24 second chance points to the Warriors 4.

Leonard didn’t do it alone, LaMarcus Aldridge had 26 points and 14 boards, Jonathan Simmons came off the bench for 20 and had a highlight chasedown block on Stephen Curry. But make no mistake, this was Leonard’s team and night.

Games in October are incredibly poor predictors of the outcome of a May playoff series. Both of these teams will evolve over the course of the season, and the Warriors will get things figured out. But we learned on opening night there is no doubt the Spurs are Kawhi’s team — and they are not to be trifled with.

2) Golden State’s defense needs some work. It was easy to see the rough spots in the Warriors offense the team still needs to be smoothed out — the passes to teammates who had already vacated the spot, the threes not being in rhythm (7-of-33 from deep, a number of those looks uncontested), and all those stars playing next to each other rather than with each other. It was to be expected.

However, offense wasn’t the Warriors’ big problem — their defense was atrocious. The Spurs scored at a ridiculous 125.9 points per 100 possessions pace, because literally half of their shot attempts were uncontested (according to the player tracking stats). San Antonio had an eFG% of 54.1, and the Spurs grabbed the offensive rebound on 41.2 percent of their shots when they did miss. Leonard had a career-high 35 points, Aldridge 26, and the Spurs time after time got the shot they wanted — and they had 24 fast break points, the Warriors did not get back in transition defense. The Warriors missed Andrew Bogut inside, both as a rim protector and on the glass (this was not Zaza Pachulia’s best night).

The past two years, the Warriors had a top five NBA defense, and that as much as their vaunted shooting was the reason they went to back-to-back Finals. No doubt they made the right move adding Durant to the roster — they are going to figure this all out. This was the first game of 82, and we knew there would be some bumps at the start. But more than the offense, Steve Kerr and his staff need to get the Warriors back to being a defensive force.

3) Damian Lillard’s brilliant offense overcame his defense. Again. Damian Lillard came into this season saying he wanted to be MVP, and on opening night he put up those kinds of numbers — 39 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and he led his team to an opening night win against Utah. Portland did a great job of setting their high picks especially high, then letting Lillard go downhill fast off them right at Rudy Gobert — and Lillard finished around and over the big man all night.

Portland had an eight-point lead at the half and led by double digits for chunks of the second quarter, but in the third Utah took the lead because they exposed Lillard on the other end. Utah started running a George Hill/Joe Johnson pick-and-roll (1/3 action) and when Lillard switched it they got the ball to Johnson and he just overpowered Lillard on his way to 29 points. Johnson shot 6-of-7 in the paint and scored at will all night.

Lillard came back and had 16 of his points in the fourth quarter to help Portland get the win, he was nothing short of brilliant on offense. The Blazers got enough stops to rack up the victory at home. But their small backcourt of Lillard and C.J. McCollum is going to be a defensive challenge all season long.

Opening night bonus note: LeBron James was having fun at the expense of the Knicks’ defense. The Cavaliers cruised to a win over New York, and LeBron James had a triple-double and did whatever he wished. And what he wished was to dunk. A lot.

Watch Jonathan Simmons’ chasedown block on Stephen Curry


Jonathan Simmons did his best LeBron James impression on opening night.

While the Spurs were running the Warriors out of Oracle Arena — a 129-100 Spurs win — Simmons had a fantastic chasedown block on Stephen Curry. It was one of the plays of the game (most of the rest came from Kawhi Leonard).

Simmons had 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting off the bench for the Spurs in the win, which included a poster dunk on JaVale McGee late. Just to put some icing on the win.