Thunder Drops Second Night
of Back-to-Back in Memphis
Game Recap: Thunder 113, Grizzlies 122
Despite the nine-point final margin, the Thunder kept Wednesday night’s game close through the first three quarters. The squad generated quality looks throughout the game, but ultimately defensive lapses in the final frame gave Memphis the open door to pull away.
The 24 hours leading up to Wednesday’s 8 p.m. tip off were unusual circumstances for the Thunder. Blizzard conditions in Oklahoma City forced the team to depart for Memphis the day of the game and arrive to the arena straight from the airport – just two hours prior to tip.
None of this, however, would be used as ammunition for the Thunder to coast through the its matchup with the Grizzlies. According to Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault: “If you spoon feed these guys an excuse, they're gonna spit it back out.”
That no-excuse mentality was demonstrated in the locker room before the game where the Thunder’s third-year guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander gave a message to his group in order to set the tone for the night.
“Obviously the circumstances were a little bit different tonight. But it's our job. It's what we have to do,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “And no matter what, we’ve got to play to a certain extent and a certain level and give everything we've got.”
It was the first game back for SGA after missing the previous four games with a left knee sprain. The third-year guard didn’t miss a beat upon his return as he not only cashed in the first points of the game for the Thunder, but also posted 13 first-half points while dishing out a team-high four assists.
Gilgeous-Alexander’s contributions lifted the Thunder to an early 31-30 lead after the first quarter, but Memphis played to its characteristics as the league’s leader in points off of turnovers. The Grizzlies translated each of the Thunder’s miscues into transition scoring opportunities and by the end of the first half, the Thunder had turned the ball over 13 times which translated into 17 extra points for Memphis.
Even still, the Thunder entered into the second half trailing by only one point thanks to a hyper-efficient shooting performance – 50 percent from both the field and the 3-point line while cashing in a perfect 11-for-11 from the free throw line.
“Our offense was good despite the turnovers,” said Daigneault. “We shot the ball really well, generated good shots and the guys knock them down.”
“We were moving the ball well on offense and getting good penetration and kicking out to shooters and who were ready to shoot,” said Thunder center Mike Muscala who finished with a team-high five-made 3-pointers.
Muscala, Théo Maledon and Darius Bazley all cashed in two 3-pointers each in the third frame to lift OKC to another 50-percent shooting performance from behind the arc. The trio would also be a part of the six-man Thunder contingent that scored in double-figures. All five starters, plus Muscala scored 10 points or more for the sixth time this season.
“We have basketball players on our team. When I say that I mean guys that can do multiple things on the floor: make shots, create for others, rebound and do little things,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “Guys are just competitors.”
That competitiveness gave the Thunder a one-point advantage to start the fourth quarter. Hard drives to the rim and attacks to the basket gave OKC valuable trips to the free throw line where they continued to convert.
However, the fourth quarter began to tilt back to the Grizzlies direction behind critical second-chance opportunities from Memphis’ center Jonas Valanciunas who leads the league in second chance points per game. Valanciunas carved out four offensive rebounds on the way to nine points in the final frame. Bolstering the Memphis momentum was third-year sharp-shooter Grayson Allen who knocked down three 3-pointers on four attempts to close out the contest.
“I didn't think we were really on our game defensively the whole night,” said Daigneault. “We made a couple runs, we hung in there for a while, got the game into a manageable spot, but just not enough stops, to be honest with you, in the fourth. They made plays and obviously more plays that we did.”
Play of the Game
Going into halftime, the Thunder cut the Grizzlies lead down to one point with a bang-bang buzzer beating play that went baseline to baseline. Isaiah Roby wrangled in a defensive rebound after Ja Morant missed a layup. Roby, the versatile forward that he is, immediately turned up the floor to make a play with just four seconds remaining on the clock.
On his dribble, Roby noticed his teammate Darius Bazley already out ahead of the pack in transition. Roby zipped the ball ahead to Darius who took two steps and elevated for the slam with four-tenths of a second to spare on the game clock.
Stat of the Night23
Memphis leads the league in points off of turnovers per contest and despite the fact that the Thunder course corrected in the game to reduce its 13 first-half turnovers to just five in the second, Memphis still converted 23 total points off of the Thunder’s miscues.
“The bigger missed opportunity offensively I thought was just the turnovers,” said Daigneault. “I thought there was some carelessness in the first half. We got that corrected to a certain degree in the second half but just weren't sharp enough on either end of the floor to win the game. We've got to learn from it and keep moving on and keep improving from all these games."
Quotes of the Night
“It starts with Mark. I think that's what the Thunder organization represents, the city of Oklahoma City - just coming to work every day ready, putting your best effort out, being there for each other, playing together, playing hard, learning from wins and from losses, and taking everything as it comes.”
“The ball didn't go in our favor. They got a couple of offensive rebounds; we didn't make enough shots and things like that happen. It is what it is, but I think we give the effort and I'm pleased with that.” –Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
After its brief stop in Memphis, the Thunder will head to Milwaukee for a rematch against the Bucks on Friday before closing out the road trip in Cleveland to take on the Cavaliers for the first time this season.