OKLAHOMA CITY — The Thunder came into Wednesday’s game against Memphis playing their best basketball of the season.
Sure, it’s early, but it’s awfully late when you consider the Thunder still don’t have a quality win. Memphis won 107-97 inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, making it a pair of November home losses for Oklahoma City and a big oh-fer when it comes down to looking for that impressive victory.
Five-game winning streaks are nice, and the Thunder had been impressive since a 1-2 start, beating Toronto, Detroit twice, Chicago and Cleveland, but if this were the BCS, the Thunder would be the team lacking in strength of schedule.
Leave it to Memphis for that. That’s six wins in a row now for the Grizzlies, including back-to-back blowouts of the league’s elite – first Miami and now Oklahoma City.
“It’s not just another game in November,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “It’s an important game. They outplayed us and we’re not happy with it. We have to figure out why. Right now, I don’t know. It wasn’t because of effort.”
He’s right about a few things there. It wasn’t just another game, it was Memphis, a team that seems to play with a playoff-like urgency well before the calendar says it’s playoff time. Meanwhile, it had a playoff feel, too. Kendrick Perkins and Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph were ejected late in the fourth quarter, and Perkins refused to talk to media after the game.
“The intensity was there,” Randolph said. “Very physical. Hard basketball.”
And Brooks is right again about the effort. It wasn’t a lack of trying that got the Thunder beat. It was a lack of getting in front of the basketball. . A quarter after scoring 30 points, the most Memphis has given up this season, OKC turned around and allowed 36, the most it has given up this season. A 30-20 lead changed to a 56-45 halftime deficit.
“I don’t know if that will ever happen to us the rest of the season,” Brooks said of the second quarter when OKC was outscored 36-15. “They deserved to win this game. They played better than us.”
Shouldn’t have been that way. This team made the NBA Finals last season but is 0-2 against teams that are halfway decent. Wednesday was the first chance against an elite team since Game 1 of the season, when the Thunder lost at San Antonio. This was a chance for Oklahoma City to break out, show up and make a statement.
Instead, the Thunder blew it. Instead, Durant’s 34 points – the first time he has been better than 30 this season – was wasted. So was Russell Westbrook’s 13-assist effort. And the Thunder bench, long a strong suit, was outworked by the Memphis reserves (outscored 31-13). Oklahoma City’s Kevin Martin had just seven points on only four shots, his lowest output of the season.
And of course, as has been the case this season, the Thunder couldn’t shake out of its turnover issue, which has become a full-blown virus. Oklahoma City had 15 more, while Memphis had just eight.
“Move on to the next day,” Westbrook said of the next step. “Get ready for practice tomorrow. Get ready for New Orleans on Friday.”
Yep. Maybe the next two games will be confidence builders for the Thunder but won’t turn any heads across the league. Two more West teams are up, neither of which was in the playoffs last season, at New Orleans on Friday and then back home against Golden State on Sunday. It will be a week from now when the Thunder get another chance at a first win against a good team when the Clippers come to Oklahoma City.
“Every game is important for us,” Brooks said. “We have 82 big games a year. I thought they outplayed us tonight. We’re not happy with that.”