Basketball / Sports

Analysis: Thunder found its 'A' game in Game 7 as Grizzlies are outmanned and manhandled

OKLAHOMA CITY -- For six games the Memphis Grizzlies had avoided or prevented -- depending on your viewpoint -- one of the NBA's best duos from ever playing in tandem. There were decent games by Kevin Durant paired with miserable outings by Russell Westbrook, and miserable performances by Durant coupled with magical displays of athleticism from Westbrook.

Any semblance of togetherness remained absent. Until game seven.

Durant and Westbrook combined for 60 points, 18 rebounds and 18 assists on Saturday, summoning a combined lethality that finally undid the Grizzlies. Here's the analysis from a 120-109 victory for OKC:

The early difference: Without Zach Randolph occupying his familiar spot on the right wing of the, Marc Gasol became the focal point of the Memphis offense. Time and again the ball found its way into Gasol's hands, be it in the pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop or isolation. And early on he was brilliant.

The big man scored 13 points in the first quarter while flashing an impressive offensive repertoire. He scored on a reverse layup, a beautiful give-and-go with Tony Allen in transition, a sweeping right-handed hook shot across the lane and swished his trademark mid-range jumper.

A stunned crowd looked up at the scoreboard to see a 36-27 Memphis lead at the end of the first quarter.

The unexpected: The pace of this game was frantic and wild and completely in favor of Oklahoma City from the opening tip Saturday, feeling at times like a continuation of the Kentucky Derby.

Yet the Grizzlies hung in and matched the Thunder shot for shot in an exciting first half, the undermanned underdogs doing the unthinkable by building a double-digit lead. Eleven fast-break points for OKC were offset by 11 fast-break points for Memphis, with Allen and Lee and Conley, who gutted it out despite a hamstring strain, attacking the rim with gusto.

Memphis, an offensively challenged team, ran crisp sets (47.7 percent shooting) and made its free throws (14-for-15) to remain within one possession at halftime of a game on pace to reach the 120s.

The turning point: For two weeks the Thunder had churned out head-scratching performances from beyond the 3-point line. Each successive miss -- by Durant, by Westbrook, by Caron Butler -- was even more puzzling, and for a while it seemed as if the law of averages had taken a vacation.

But then came game seven, and with it arrived an influx of 3-pointers that, to Thunder fans, seemed long overdue.

A one-possession game at the start of the third quarter quickly bloated as Durant and Co. caught fire from all over the court. The Thunder made seven consecutive jump shots in the first seven minutes of the third quarter, including three 3-pointers. A 61-58 advantage turned into an 82-69 disparity, and before long the rout was on.

OKC shot 5-for-7 from 3-point range in the third quarter and 7-for-11 overall in the second half.

The knockout punch: A seven-second stretch in the fourth quarter finally extinguished the flicker of hope that was the Grizzlies' season.

With 5:55 remaining and Memphis in a 17-point hole, Marc Gasol trailed the play as his team crossed half court. He dove hard into the lane, a pass finding him just four feet from the basket. But his leaner clanked off the back rim, and he missed a follow-up tip.

Durant snatched the rebound and raced up court as Allen, his shadow, sprinted to catch up. Durant fired a pace across the court to Westbrook, who buried a backbreaking 3-pointer on the left wing.

It was a five-point swing that pushed the lead to 20, ensuring that Memphis was heading home.

(c)2014 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.)

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GRIZZLIES, THUNDER


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