Pace was a word in fashion after Oklahoma City’s 100-86 win over Memphis in their first-round playoff opener.
Game 1 on Saturday looked like two different games.
There was the first half, when Oklahoma City pushed the ball, scored transition baskets at will and led by 25 points.
Then there was the third quarter. Memphis slowed things, picked its spots to run, used post players Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol to dominate inside and outscored Oklahoma City by 18 points to get back in it.
”We got stops,” Randolph said. ”We played our style of basketball. We were getting stops and pushing the ball up and getting back on defense, getting back in transition and slowing down them running off and getting fast breaks.”
Memphis believes its best chance to beat Oklahoma City is to play an entire game like the third quarter of Saturday’s contest. The Grizzlies can take confidence from their rally into Game 2 Monday night in Oklahoma City.
”It was real important,” Randolph said. ”We see what we can do. We know what we can do and we’ve got to come like that at the beginning of the game.”
In the first half, Memphis missed shot after shot against Oklahoma City’s aggressive defense and allowed Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to snag defensive rebounds. Once those two got the ball, it was a race to the hoop that Memphis was ill-equipped to win. Durant scored 17 points in the first half and Westbrook added 16.
Oklahoma City blocked eight shots in the first half to fuel its transition game. The Thunder scored 21 fast-break points before halftime and led 29-16 after one quarter and 56-34 at the break.
”Now we know that we’ve got to send the ones and the twos back on the shot every time,” Memphis guard Courtney Lee said. ”We can’t gamble on the backcourt, we’ve got to get back. You know, when (Serge) Ibaka is blocking shots like that, leading off the fast break, me or Michael (Conley) or whoever’s out there at the guard slot needs to realize that and get back.”
Oklahoma City allowed 34 points on 25 percent shooting in the first half.
”I thought we did a good job of just continuing to play at the pace that we want to play,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said of the first-half performance. ”To keep pushing the ball, it has to be off of our defensive effort.”
If Memphis wants to control the speed of the game, it also will need to better control Westbrook, a tall task for any team. Oklahoma City’s explosive point guard was out with a knee injury last year when Memphis won the Western Conference semifinals in five games. He showed his value Saturday with 23 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
”He was running the basketball extremely well, got everybody the ball, and scored the ball at a high rate,” Durant said. ”He makes it a lot easier for everybody, not just myself. He wreaked havoc on both ends of the floor.”
In the third quarter, Memphis cut its 22-point deficit down to four. Its grind-it-out style put a scare into the crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
”Second half, I thought we did a better job of getting our hands on them, being more physical defensively,” said Conley, who had 16 points and 11 assists. ”We allowed ourselves to slow down the game a little bit and we were able to get it to our pace.”
Brooks acknowledged his team’s complacency to start the second half.
”Our defense wasn’t as aggressive,” he said. ”Give them credit. They came out. When they were down a big number, they came out better, and we didn’t do a good job of getting stops in that third quarter that allowed us to play with our pace.”
Memphis cut Oklahoma City’s lead to two in the fourth quarter, but the Grizzlies expended too much energy catching up. Durant scored 13 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter to help the Thunder pull away.
”We dug ourselves a hole starting out and climbing that ladder and trying to dig into the lead,” Tony Allen said. ”It’s kind of crucial down the stretch, with some guys getting fouls, and fatigue probably might’ve set in. Whatever the case may be, we’ve just got to be ready to play from start to finish. We do that come Monday, I like our odds.”
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .