OKLAHOMA CITY – The Thunder are in the same spot they were a season ago.
Tied with Memphis after two games in Oklahoma City in a best-of-seven series. Last year, the struggle was real. The Thunder had Kevin Durant, but past that, they didn’t have much else after Russell Westbrook went out in the first round with a knee injury.
This season, they have Westbrook and they have Durant, but they also have the same problems from the 2013 playoffs against Memphis: OKC just couldn’t close.
Last year, Durant made the game-winning shot in Game 1, but couldn’t in the next four - all of them decided by a total of 22 points and all of them Memphis wins.
Saturday, the Thunder took Game 1, Durant had 33 points and OKC got off to a satisfying start, but for most of Wednesday’s Game 2, 111-105 overtime loss, Durant looked as frustrated as this season’s Don Draper.
Durant and Westbrook shot the Thunder back into the game late in the fourth quarter with a display of shots you’d see in a driveway HORSE game, and even after a Kendrick Perkins follow shot bailed the Thunder out in regulation, neither could do it again in overtime.
OKC turned it over on the first two possessions of overtime and Durant and Westbrook combined to shoot two-of-eight from the field in the extra period. No one else took a shot.
"We know what they are coming with," said Memphis forward Tony Allen, who can only be credited with good defense on Durant, despite the fact Durant scored 36 points. "It’s going to be a slugfest. We know this team. A lot."
Know them so well the Grizzlies are now 3-1 against Oklahoma City in the four playoff games in Oklahoma City during the past two seasons.
Know them so well, even with Westbrook returning, it’s Memphis that has a shot of confidence and the Thunder who should have a good deal of concern.
"We missed some shots tonight that we like," said Durant who defended his 12-for-28 night from the field. "I went 5-of-12 on 3s. That’s a pretty good percentage. "Russ missed a few. I missed some. Mixed in was some of their good defense, but I like the shots we took tonight."
Memphis does, too. The Thunder took 30 3-pointers and made only nine and the Thunder shot just 39.8 percent from the field. "That’s probably a few too many (jump shots)," Durant said.
A 31-point fourth quarter tempered a sluggish offensive performance, but a six-point, 25-percent shooting effort in overtime added some sting.
"They make plays," Durant said of Memphis. "In overtime, we turned the ball over. Sometimes it’s miscommunication on our part."
Miscommunication, missed shots, missed opportunities. Whatever. The message is clear so far: The Thunder need to figure out how to solve Memphis when it counts most. The Thunder need to make the plays the Grizzlies have made over the past two seasons.
"I wish I could tell you," Durant said about why Memphis closes, but the Thunder doesn’t. "That’s a tough question to answer."
Well, a start would be the shooting. When the Thunder get in trouble, they generally settle for jumpers. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t, like Wednesday when OKC had just one of its eight field goal tries in overtime come from closer than 14 feet. The Thunder got to the free throw line just twice in the overtime period and shot three 3-pointers. Meanwhile, Memphis was four-of-eight from the field, shot no 3-pointers and had just one shot from farther out than 7 feet â a Zach Randolph 17-footer that he made.
"We shot the shots that were open," Durant said. "We settled for a few. We put ourselves in position to win a basketball game and they made more plays than we did."
Just like the Grizzlies did a season ago, using Allen to wear down Durant. It worked again Wednesday. Like Allen noted, Durant got his points, but 22 of them came in the second half, and Memphis can take some pleasure in the fact it was able to win with Westbrook on the court for the Thunder. Westbrook scored 29 points, but went 11-of-28 from the field.
"We’re not panicking at all," Durant said.
Last season, the Thunder could excuse away the second-round loss. No one blames them. Westbrook makes a difference.
No excuses in 2014 because Wednesday in OKC, Memphis just made more plays.
"We stuck with it," Memphis guard Courtney Lee said. "We executed down the stretch and we ended up coming away with the win."