You've Got a Prayer in Memphis: Thunder Pulls Off Wild Comeback – OKC 102, MEM 101 (OT)

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

MEMPHIS –The Thunder trailed by as many as 20 in the first half to the Memphis Grizzlies, and even as the game wore on, the free throw line had been a nemesis. In the harrowing final minutes of regulation and overtime that followed a massive comeback, the Thunder overcame both demons.

With 8.4 seconds left in overtime and down by 1, Russell Westbrook attacked the paint going left out of a timeout and drew a foul. Standing at the free throw line, where the Thunder had shot just 16-for-29 up to that point, Westbrook took a big deep breath, settled himself, and rolled in two monstrous free throws.

The Grizzlies had no timeouts left, so Tyreke Evans took the ball in out of bounds and raced downcourt. Just before as he got to the three-point line, Carmelo Anthony used some veteran savvy to disrupt Evans’ drive. The ball flew loose, the clock ran out, Westbrook pumped his fist in celebration and the Thunder breathed easy as it snapped an 8-game road losing streak with a 102-101 overtime win.

“We fought all night long,” Westbrook said. “We were down big early. We stayed with it all game. It was a good win.”

It was not a pretty start at all for Oklahoma City, as it came out playing slow on offense and chasing the ball on defense. Memphis, playing on the second night of a home back-to-back and hoping to avenge a loss to Toronto on Friday took advantage. Before Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club knew it, the Grizzlies lead was into double digits, and midway through the second quarter it was 50-30.

The Thunder made a conscious effort at that point to elevate the pace and tempo of the game – to push the ball more in transition, to run its offense faster in the halfcourt and try to get Memphis’ defense on the move.

“Going into halftime we changed the tempo of the game, and changed our mentality. It carried over,” Westbrook explained. “We were playing faster, playing more physical, getting stops when we needed to and were being the aggressors.”

It worked. Behind Westbrook’s downhill attacks the Thunder ripped off 13 straight points and got back into the game, cutting the Grizzlies lead to as few as 7 before the half with an Anthony three, two Steven Adams buckets and six points from Westbrook, who finished with a 20-point, 14-assist, 11-rebound triple-double.

League’s leading dimer doing It again. #ThunderUp @russwest44

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“(Westbrook) was really good,” guard Alex Abrines said of the reigning NBA MVP. “He is the leader of this team. We need him to score. We need him to pass the ball and create for his teammates. He’s been doing it all year. He’s one of the best in the world.”

“(Westbrook) did a great job of running our team, being the quarterback and the leader out there,” Donovan added. “He found people on the break. He got Carmelo some shots. He got Alex some shots. He executed really well down the stretch.”

After the break, that energy continued on offense, and even though shots didn’t fall with the same frequency as in the second quarter, the Thunder’s defense more than made up for it. Memphis only managed 9 points in the third period, a reversal of the recent trend of the Thunder’s to take a step back after halftime. A spirited, scrambling defensive effort helped the Thunder climb all the way back and take a lead heading into the fourth quarter.

“It was that little extra urgency,” Adams said. “It was more of just trying to get a stop no matter what. Once you’re in that mindset, in scramble mode, it’s a good place to be.”

From there on out it was back-and-forth, as both teams made timely shots in the closing minutes of regulation. The Thunder found something and stuck with it – an offensive set that got Alex Abrines going baseline from the left side of the floor to the right, then looping off a screen for a catch on the right wing. Westbrook found his Spanish sharpshooter and the second-year guard made the Grizzlies pay, knocking down three clutch three-pointers, one with 2:50 to go in the fourth quarter and two in overtime. Abrines finished with 20 points on 6-for-8 three-point shooting.

“It’s good to see him back to that level,” Donovan said, referencing Abrines working his way back into rhythm from injury. “Everybody knew he was too good of a worker, and he’s too good of a shooter that you knew it was going to turn soon.”

“I’m more happy about the comeback and the effort that my teammates put out,” Abrines said. “We just took our time to find the open man and I just had to be ready. Russ and Melo were able to find me when I was wide open.”

Anthony did the dirty work and tipped in an Adams missed free throw to give the Thunder a 91-88 lead with 2:00 to go, but all of the Thunder’s hard work was nearly washed away. Up by two, the Thunder fouled Marc Gasol, who made one free throw, and when the second one missed, the Thunder lost control of the defensive rebound and then fouled Evans, who also made one free throw. With 1.8 seconds left, the Thunder couldn’t get a clean shot at the rim.

So to overtime these two teams went, both hungry for a much-needed victory. The teams traded baskets and stops, and no one’s lead felt safe despite the way the seconds were rapidly dripping off the game clock. Abrines hit two of his threes in the extra period, but with the game tied at 98, the Thunder’s incredible defensive possession was upended by a contested Evans three-pointer up against the shot clock.

Westbrook missed a three on the next possession, but the Thunder forced a miss and had life with 19 seconds to go. Donovan opted to extend the game by getting a quick two, and it worked out perfectly. Westbrook drove right around Gasol and scored an easy layup. Then, after a timeout, the Thunder went for a steal and JaMychal Green had a wide open lane for a dunk, but Jerami Grant flew in to foul and prevent a sure two points. Green missed both free throws, setting up Westbrook’s drive to draw a foul and free throws to take the lead before the Thunder’s final defensive stand.
Watch: Thunder Tops Grizzlies in OT


By the Numbers

2 – Points in the paint allowed by the Thunder in the third quarter tonight, after giving up 28 in the first half

9 – Rebounds for Carmelo Anthony to go with two steals, two blocks and 21 points

25 – Fast break points for the Thunder, 23 of which came in the second and third quarters


The Last Word

“We’ve been on the other side of some of those big leads that we lost. But the one thing I would say is, because of the number of possessions, because of how fast teams play, leads like that are not insurmountable anymore… You just got to play and keep battling and sometimes you have the chance to change the momentum of the game.” – Head Coach Billy Donovan

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