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.