The Oklahoma City Thunder threw all the Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka at the Memphis Grizzlies that they could and it wasn’t enough to prevent the Grizzlies from swiping home-court advantage on the strength of an overtime win in Game 2 Monday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
So now the Thunder have to go to the din of the FedExForum in Memphis for Games 3 and 4 needing to win at least one of them to reclaim home court.
Durant has been solid, averaging 34.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists in the first two games of the series, even as Tony Allen has hounded him into a .472/.421/.786 shooting line. Russell Westbrook is averaging 26 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists (we’ll forgive the eight turnovers in two games, at least for now), but the 40.4 shooting percentage is an issue.
And Ibaka is netting 16 points, 10 rebounds and a whopping 4.5 blocks a game while shooting 60 percent.
Between the three of them, they are averaging 76.5 points, 28 rebounds, 13 assists and six blocks.
Everyone else on the Thunder is accounting for 26 points a game.
The primary culprit so far has been Reggie Jackson, the mercurial sixth man who has done a nice job of getting to the foul line (10 attempts in 38 minutes in the first two games), but he’s not finishing anything. Jackson was 1-for-10 from the floor in the opening two games and scored 11 points. For a guy who averaged 13.1 points per game during the regular season, that’s not enough.
Caron Butler was somewhat silent in the first two games, as well. After averaging 9.7 points in 27.2 minutes a game in the 22 games after Milwaukee let him go, Butler had 12 points in 53 minutes in Games 1 and 2.
Memphis deserves some credit for the struggles of the Thunder, who shot 39.8 percent in the Game 2 loss after hitting 44.7 percent in the opener. The Grizzlies are doing their best to run the Thunder off the 3-point line, where OKC has hit just 28.3 percent (13-for-46) in the first two games after hitting better than 36 percent during the regular year.
The quartet of Derek Fisher, Jackson, Thabo Sefolosha and Westbrook are a combined 2-for-22 from behind the arc—9.1 percent—and that simply won’t get it done, not in an offense that depends on driving and kicking action from Westbrook and Durant. The shooters have to make the shots—sometimes the game really is just that simple.
Defensively, the Thunder harassed the Grizzlies into a horrific 36.3 percent performance—made more telling by the fact Memphis relies so little on the 3-pointer (11 attempts in Game 1). But the Grizzlies recovered to hit 49.4 percent of their shots in Game 2 and much of that came from the bench, where Allen was 3-for-4 and Beno Udrih emerged from some dark tunnel somewhere to go 6-for-8 in 14 minutes.
In Game 2, Jackson was 0-for-5 and scored two points in 14 minutes. He’s got to regain Scott Brooks’ trust, and soon, because the alternative is Derek Fisher playing more minutes when he no longer really has the quickness to stay with Mike Conley or Udrih on penetration—something we saw all too clearly in Game 2, in particular.
Conley was 6-for-10 in the paint in Game 2 and when a point guard is going 6-for-10 in the paint, something is breaking down somewhere on the perimeter. Udrih, in his short stint, was 3-for-4 in the painted area.
But perimeter defense aside, the biggest adjustment the Thunder have to make is to find their shooting stroke.
The problem is that the Memphis Grizzlies and FedExForum are a tough opponent and venue to go look for it.