Thunder stars out of sync in loss to Grizzlies
OKLAHOMA CITY — Eddie Sutton was inside the Memphis locker room Monday night. He was watching his former team — Kentucky — play for the national championship.
But he was smiling at his former Oklahoma State pupil Tony Allen.
Allen and Memphis locked up the Thunder, who came into the game as the hottest team in the league, fresh off wins against Miami, Chicago and the Lakers.
Yeah, the Thunder lost 94-88 to a Memphis team that was stronger, more physical and more aggressive. But look closer. The Thunder lost for the first time in seven games because none of their big three -- Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden -- picked up the slack.
"I don't know," Westbrook said. "Sometimes it happens like that."
Here's how it happened Monday.
Durant had 21 points. Westbrook had 19 and Harden had 14, which seems like an output Oklahoma City can live with, but Monday it killed them. Harden was the only one of the trio who shot better than 50 percent (5-of-9). Westbrook needed a 3-for-4 fourth quarter to get to 5-of-16 shooting. Meanwhile, Durant was just 8-for-20.
"Didn't happen tonight," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of Westbrook's shot, but really he could have been talking about the entire effort as the Thunder shot 45 percent and turned it over 18 times. "Kevin missed some shots. He had an opportunity to get some easy buckets. If we can get those in Miami, we'll be pleased. He's going to make shots more times than not. Rarely does he have an off night. You're not going to make your shots every night."
Nope, not every night and not from every star, but during a recent run of six wins in a row, when Durant struggled, Westbrook was there. When Westbrook struggled, Harden was there.
When all three struggled Monday, there wasn't much else there. Not when the Thunder turned it over more and managed just two fast-break points.
"We were out of sync," Brooks said. "That's all I can say. I'm not frustrated with our effort. We've played some really good teams. We played pretty good, but not good enough to win the game."
It wasn't all bad for the Thunder, who held Memphis to 39 percent shooting. But Allen, who guarded Westbrook, instead of Durant, seemed to frustrate the Thunder guard. Meanwhile, Memphis reserve Gilbert Arenas did a good job of holding down Durant.
"We're a defensive team," Memphis forward Rudy Gay said. "That's what we do. When we play like that, we're hard to beat."
Still, the Thunder had their chances until O.J. Mayo hit a contested 3-pointer with 17 seconds left, giving Memphis a four-point lead.
"It's one game," Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha said. "It's nothing to worry about."
Certainly no need to panic, but what Monday showed is the Thunder can be had when their stars stall and the team is locked up in a half-court struggle. No breaking news there, but then again, it's not like a lot of teams have had success doing that lately.
OKC ran past Chicago, dominated the Lakers and scored easily on Miami, mixing in a blowout win over Portland in the past four games. Go back a bit farther and there's a road win at the Clippers and a win over Minnesota in which the Thunder 53 percent.. That's six games where Oklahoma City had few offensive issues.
The Thunder did win three of four from Memphis this season, but they did need seven games to top the Grizzlies in the playoffs a year ago. And now, the Thunder face Miami on Wednesday in a rematch of last week's game, which the Thunder won in Oklahoma City. The Thunder enter this latest showdown looking to regain their form.
"They didn't turn the ball over and we didn't get out in transition, so it kind of slowed down our pace as well," Brooks said. "We were just a bit out of sync. I can't fault the guys. We've been playing high level on both ends. Tonight we were a little out of sync on both ends."