Highlights: OKC at MEM
THE REPORTERS' NOTEBOOK
Fourth-Quarter Lull Slows OKC's Attack in Memphis
By Nick Gallo and Paris Lawson | okcthunder.com
The Big Picture
No matter the momentum, a road trip can only go as far as what’s left in the gas tank allows. On Wednesday the Thunder battled for two-and-a-half quarters against one of the most dominant teams in the Western Conference, but after a pair of fourth quarter surges in Minnesota and Atlanta, OKC couldn’t muster up a final run in Memphis. The Grizzlies outscored the Thunder 29-15 in the fourth quarter on the way to a 123-102 final margin.
The Thunder couldn’t get much going on the interior in this one, starting the game 2-for-15 below the 3-point line, but 7-for-15 on above-the-break threes in the first half. The Grizzlies were selling out with help in the paint, and the Thunder made Memphis pay with outside shots. Eventually, the scoring for the Thunder faltered, and Memphis had an extra gear in transition, where the Grizzlies racked up 18 fast break points. While there was plenty to improve upon, there were also some positive takeaways, like the way OKC out-hustled Memphis on the offensive glass and got five players into double figures again.
Nick: The Memphis Grizzlies are one of the most physical defenses in the NBA, providing resistance to drives to the lane, which is the area the Thunder excels in more than any other. As a result, the Thunder wanted to get out into the open floor and get some high quality looks before Memphis could get its defense set. After Josh Giddey made a steal on an attempted cross-court pass by Ja Morant, he pushed the ball up the floor and found Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer on the right wing. Getting an in-rhythm shot like that can be a catalyst for any player.
Paris: At 6:54, Mark Daigneault inserted Eugene Omoruyi into the ball game. On his very first possession, Omoruyi ripped down an offensive rebound through the tall timbers of Steven Adams and Santi Aldama. On the next possession, the two-way player took a disciplined charge on Ja Morant who had high hopes on his attack down the middle of the lane. He continued to inject energy into the game when the team needed it throughout the night and finished with 11 points, five rebounds and four steals in 24 minutes of action.
Paris: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl streaked across the baseline and without missing a beat Aaron Wiggins tossed up a lofty pass above the rim. Robinson-Earl elevated and threw down the slam to add to the Thunder’s points in the paint total in the first half. It wouldn’t be the only time that JRE would make his mark on the rim – by the end of the night, the second-year forward logged three dunks which is three more than he had the entire previous season.
Nick: Jalen Williams attacked and put a shot up, then stuck with the play when his shot rolled off the rim. Maintaining physicality, Williams was quick off the ground on his second jump and tipped in his own miss. The Thunder was aggressive and opportunistic on the offensive glass for the entire first half, and ended up leading Memphis, who came in as the NBA’s best rebounding team, in total rebounds (32-27), offensive rebounds (11-5) and second chance points (8-6) at halftime. In categories like that where the opponent typically has a massive advantage, even playing to a draw in that department is a win for OKC.
Nick: Impeccable vision in transition on a cross-court fast break pass from Giddey to Robinson-Earl to beat Memphis in transition for a dunk. On the very next possession, Robinson-Earl sprinted up the right hand side of the floor again, streaking towards the rim where Gilgeous-Alexander found him this time for another dunk. The Thunder racked up 25 assists in the game, giving OKC at least 20 assists in 20 of the team’s 25 games.
Paris: The Thunder’s 3-point shooting has been a massive boost to its offense throughout the night as the Grizzlies work to take away the paint. Through the first three quarters, OKC shot 48 percent from deep and nearly all of its looks have come off of incredible ball movement. After moving the ball from one side of the floor to the next, OKC found multiple quality looks throughout the night. Of its 30 made baskets, 22 of them came off of assists heading into the final frame.
Nick: While the Thunder struggled to get pay off its downhill, attacking style against a stout Memphis defense, Gilgeous-Alexander continued to keep the scoreboard moving at the free throw line for his team. For the game, Shai racked up career-highs with 17-made free throws and 19 attempts, giving him 214 makes on 231 attempts this season, good for 92.6 percent on the season. Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging nearly 10 free throw attempts per game this season, and leads the NBA in total makes from the stripe.
Quotes of the Night
Eugene Omoruyi on his mentality going into a game…
“My mindset is to always stay ready as always. Stay ready, be ready to go no matter what game or what time in the game – just always be ready and still have that positive mindset because I know what I'm fighting for. So just always be ready no matter what.”
Josh Giddey on the Thunder’s low paint production…
“They’ve got great rim protection. Their defense is good when they're all switched on. We tried to exploit some different matchups, but for the most part, they got it covered. Our offense could have been a lot better tonight, but you learn from these games and you move on to the next.”
The Thunder’s longest road trip of the season, one that spans 5,000 miles and four time zone changes, is past the midway point. After a brief stop in OKC to practice, the Thunder will then ship back out for a trip to Cleveland to take on the Cavaliers on Saturday night.