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Game Recap: Thunder 121, Grizzlies 92

After jumping out to an explosive 18-point lead behind seven early 3-pointers, OKC’s offense went cold for the rest of the game. Memphis took advantage to push ahead in the final three quarters picked up their first win inside the NBA’s restart in Orlando.

Game Flow

Against the number one team in the NBA in points in the paint, the Thunder’s challenge on Friday was to protect the lane without the presence of Steven Adams (leg contusion) and Mike Muscala (concussion protocol) at the basket. This set the stage for a unique challenge for the Thunder’s defense and a test of its next-man-up mentality.

Contrary to its game against the Lakers on Wednesday, OKC started the game shooting the ball at an impressive clip from behind the 3-point line going 3-of-5 in the Thunder’s first six minutes of play. The hot streak continued throughout the entire first quarter with Luguentz Dort leading the way for OKC who drained three triples out of his four attempts on the way to an 11-point first quarter. Dort played all 12 minutes in the first frame and his aggressiveness on both ends of the floor – diving for loose balls, picking up full court – aided the Thunder to an early 37-25 first quarter lead. By the end of the night, Dort finished with 16 points.

“Lu’s been like that all year for us as far as being that engine,” said Thunder guard Chris Paul. “Now he’s a lot more comfortable with his shot. We need it. Lu has been amazing. To see him flourishing on the offensive end now as well as the defensive end is nice.”

However, the energy seemed to deflate for the Thunder in the second quarter. The rim that once looked to be the size of a hula hoop, began to look more like the top to a soda bottle. OKC went 3-for-11 in the second stanza, and two of those triples fell in the final five seconds of the half in a wild back-to-back sequence by the Thunder going into intermission.

In the second half of the game, OKC trailed by only three points despite being outscored 38-23 in the second frame. Coach Donovan’s squad had an opportunity to recapture its first-quarter energy and tie the game, but the poor shooting trend would continue for the Thunder into the third quarter. Three-pointers were still hard to come by for OKC while Memphis continued with a solid offensive rhythm. Rookie of the year contender Ja Morant and Memphis center Jonas Valanciunas both cashed in 19 points while the Grizzlies’ 6-foot-6 shooting guard Dillon Brooks led all scorers with 22 points on 10-of-18 from the field.

“I think when we did bring help, we were late closing the shooters. We needed to be a little bit more on point,” said Donovan. “Not only do you have to get there and help, but you've got to be able to close back out and contest the shot, so I thought it was a lot of different things that impacted.”

Friday’s loss was a lesson in maintaining defensive energy despite low scoring output for the Thunder. It has been a part of its identity all season long. For Coach Donovan, it came down to remaining solid in defensive principles and identity in the face of offensive adversity.

“These guys are pros and have all experienced great wins or disappointing losses. Today was a new day and was a new challenge,” said Donovan. “You can offset an off shooting night. You can keep the game close with your defense and we've done a lot of that; this was a game where we did not defend at the level or the rate that we needed to.”

Decisive Moments

After shooting an impressive 7-of-13 in the first quarter from behind the arc, Oklahoma City went cold for only 6-of-30 throughout the remaining three quarters. The shift in offensive rhythm took the wind out of the sails of the Thunder’s energy on the defensive end. Despite putting up 37 points in the first quarter, OKC was outscored 96-55 in the remaining three quarters.

“I thought it was a little bit of fool's gold in the first quarter to be honest with you,” said Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan. “It was a game in that first quarter we shot the ball really well and the seven threes and their six turnovers allowed us to have a pretty wide margin. But once they started to get into a rhythm and started to make some shots, and we shot the ball like we did, we weren't able to stop them enough defensively to overcome or offset the way we shot it today.”

Play of the Game

Despite going 1-of-8 from the 3-point line in the second quarter and being down nine points, the Thunder found a surge of offensive energy in the final five seconds of the frame. With time ticking down on the game clock, Chris Paul dropped the ball off to Danilo Gallinari who stepped into an easy, wide-open 3-pointer with five seconds left in the half.

In a moment of miscommunication, Memphis fumbled the inbounds pass to Ja Morant and the ball landed right in the hands of Paul with two seconds left. Paul, who was deep in the corner, took two steps to square his body to the basket, pump faked Morant and let the ball fly with less than a second remaining.

When the buzzer sounded, OKC had taken a nine-point deficit and whittled it down to a manageable three points going into the half.

Stat of the Night56

Memphis holds the top spot in the league when it comes to points in the paint and outscored OKC 56-30 in that area on Friday. In the first quarter, The Thunder mitigated the Grizzlies’ paint production with high energy defense and by forcing six disruptive turnovers. That energy dwindled in the next three frames Memphis’ guards began to get into the teeth of the defense and connect with its bigs on pick and rolls.

Quotes of the NightDanilo Gallinari

“Unfortunately, it was a bad game, but usually our energy is very good energy. Our energy is something that has made the difference for us throughout the whole season. It’s something that we have to bring it every night.” -Danilo Gallinari

“We’re going to just keep building and know that every team out here is fighting. There isn’t 30 teams here where teams are already eliminated. All of these teams here are going to continue to fight and try to win.” –Chris Paul

Looking Ahead

The Thunder will have little time to dwell before its first and only back-to-back in Orlando. In a Sunday matinee, the Thunder will face the Washington Wizards for the first time since October 25 which was the second game of the season. It will be a quick turnaround for the Thunder after that with a Western Conference tilt against the Phoenix Suns at 1:30 pm CT.