At halftime of Friday night's Oklahoma City Thunder/Memphis Grizzlies playoff game, the visitor held a 54-44 lead...and was 24 minutes away from advancing to the Western Conference finals against Dallas. I started writing my OKC/Dallas series preview because that's got to go up some time Saturday if they play Sunday. HA! Memphis had something else in mind, and stormed to a stunning 51-29 second half slaughter on the broad back of suddenly resurgent Zach Randolph.
Before Randolph found that second wind (though it might be a fifth wind given the grueling nature of this series), there seemed to be little hope for a Memphis rally. They had no zip in their 99-72 Game Five loss Wednesday. There was a point in the first half tonight which strongly suggested the tank wasn't going to be refilled.
I jotted down these numbers at one point in the second quarter on my legal pad:
Oklahoma City 10 of 15 on two-pointers (67%)
Memphis 10 of 31 on two-pointers (32%)
Oklahoma City was getting good shots and making them. Memphis still didn't have their legs back. Even short shots were hitting the front of the rim, or were off line, or had a flatter arc than needed. Whatever had been containing Randolph over the past few games (great defense, his own fatigue) was still working. The series seemed over.
At various times during the playoffs I've been watching the telecasts with the volume down. Writing something...dishwasher's running...whatever. The advantage of that is that your eye tends to catch when a team's energy level changes. For some teams, that's on defense. They just stop rotating or challenging drives to the bucket. For others, you see it with half-hearted offensive possessions and jump shots that fall short. It was clear in the third quarter that Oklahoma City lost their legs.
Memphis never found their legs when losing Game Five 99-72...immediately on the heels of a heartbreaking triple overtime loss a game earlier. Either OKC finally ran out of gas themselves in the second half tonight. Or, they started thinking about Dallas and lost the focus they needed to hustle all over the court. Regardless...
*Randolph would become unstoppable in the second half for Memphis. He was 7 of 13 from the floor, and picked up six more points from the free throw line to finish with 20 points in the last two quarters, and 30 for the game.
*Memphis as a team was 21 of 36 on two-pointers after the time I jotted down their poor start. Several other players took turns attacking the basket, which is characteristic of this team when it's clicking.
*Oklahoma City suddenly stopped attacking, and settled for ill-advised three-point attempts. The Thunder were 4 of 25 from behind the arc on the night. In the three games in Memphis, the Thunder shot 4/21, 5/24, and 4/25 from long range (13/70 total). That's two overtime games, and possibly this delayed reaction fatigue spot suggesting that the Thunder must resist the urge to cross their fingers on treys when they get tired.
*Perhaps the most telling stat of the whole night, Kevin Durant only took FIVE two point shots in 37 minutes of playing time! He was 1 of 9 from behind the arc, 2 of 5 inside. This was either HORRIBLE decision-making, or the actions of a very tired player. For the series...
DURANT'S SHOT DISTRUBUTION
Game One: 16 two-point attempts, 5 trey attempts
Game Two: 16 two-point attempts, 2 trey attempts
Game Three: 17 two-point atempts, 7 trey attempts
Game Four: 14 two-point attempts, 6 trey attempts
Game Five: 10 two-point attempts, 4 trey attempts
Game Six: 5 two-point attempts, 9 trey attempts
Signs suggest he first started tiring in Game Three, the first overtime battle. Durant was 2 of 7 on treys in that game, and is 5 of 26 on treys in Games 3-6. Unless he sprained an ankle in practice and isn't telling anyone, the numbers above are showing you fatigue.
And, THAT'S how you get a 51-29 second half. Randolph bullying a tired defense. No counterpunches from the fading foe.
MEMPHIS 95, OKLAHOMA CITY 83
2-point pct: OKC 55%, Memphis 46%
3-pointers: OKC 4/25, Memphis 5/16
Turnovers: OKC 16, Memphis 11
1's and 2's: OKC 71, Memphis 80
Oklahoma City had a strong night on deuces because of the hot start. When things went south, they reverted to three's...which means the two's didn't have much of a chance to slump in the final numbers you see above.
*In its victories, Memphis has won 1's and 2's by scores of 105-83, 92-81, and 80-71. Oklahoma City is plus +16 on 1's and 2's in its three wins.
*In its victories, Memphis has won turnovers by margins of 7-18, 9-13, and 11-16. Oklahoma City has neutralized turnovers in its wins.
*In its victories, Memphis is +5 in rebounds. Oklahoma City is +12 in rebounds when they win.
*Even though Durant played poorly tonight, he still had a plus/minus of -2 in a 12-point loss. Russell Westbrook had solid numbers and maintained his composure. But, the Thunder were a stunning -19 with him on the court. Each guy played 37 minutes. Since Westbrook isn't in charge of guarding Randolph, it's hard to pin that big a negative on him. He was on the floor when the gas tank hit "E." He didn't drive the car into a tree.
What's a best expectation for Game Seven? Who's going to have their legs?! Its been a grueling series. And that's an afternoon game which means less preparation and rest time. If Durant plays like he did tonight, OKC is in trouble even with home court advantage. If Randolph plays like he did tonight, same thing. We've seen so much ebb and flow in this entertaining matchup that there may be at least two zigs and one zag left.
No games scheduled Saturday. Planning to post a series preview for Miami/Chicago before bedtime Saturday evening. Sunday night we'll look at numbers and notes from Game Seven in Memphis/OKC, and Game One of Miami/Chicago.