For Memphis to beat Oklahoma City in the first round of the NBA playoffs, it was important for their defense to hold the Thunder to below their season average of 106 points per game. The Grizzlies accomplished that goal, but the Thunder still withstood a furious third-quarter rally and hung on for a 100-86 win in Oklahoma City.
The first quarter made it look like it was going to be a good old-fashioned walk-over, with the Thunder sprinting out to a 29-16 lead. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 21 points in the opening quarter and outscored the entire Grizzlies team, who did not score in their first points until Mike Conley dropped in a basket with 9:04 to go. Things didn’t change much in the second quarter either, as the Thunder were rolling at the halftime break 56-34 and on pace to easily eclipse their season average by the end of the game.
The Grizzlies, though, would come out of hibernation in the third quarter. The Memphis defense that was third in the NBA in points-allowed somehow found their way into the arena at halftime, holding the high-powered Thunder offense to 13 points while their offense cut loose for 31. The Grizzlies had clawed their way back into the ballgame, and headed into the fourth quarter down by just four. After the game Durant said his team expected that Memphis would make a run. “We knew that we were going to have to go through something like that throughout the playoffs” said Durant, adding that “all we can do is push the tempo.”
The Thunder, and especially Durant, did indeed push the tempo in the fourth quarter. The sixth-year forward from Texas scored 13 of his game-high 33 points in the final stanza as the Thunder pulled away for the win in game one. There were no surprises in the statistical columns for Oklahoma City, as Westbrook helped out with 23 points and 10 rebounds and Serge Ibaka scored 17. Durant was the assist leader for the Thunder with 7. Zach Randolph led the Grizzlies with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Marc Gasol had 16 points and Conley added 16 points and 11 assists.
In the end it was not a pretty win for the Thunder, but on a day when every other home team in the NBA Playoffs lost, they have to feel very lucky. Building up the large halftime lead proved crucial for Oklahoma City because, even though they pulled to within two at one point in the fourth quarter, Memphis is not built to come back from big deficits. It was widely accepted that the Grizzlies would have to win through defense, and holding the high-flying Thunder to 13 points in the third quarter will undoubtedly be something for the No. 7-seeds to build on for the duration of the series.
After taking game one in the best-of-seven series, the Oklahoma City Thunder will again host the Memphis Grizzlies in game two on Monday night. The series shifts back to Memphis for games three and four starting on Thursday.
Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky