With every game that goes by, the Oklahoma City Thunder are left wondering what’s not working for them. Kevin Durant has returned from another injury, but both he and Russell Westbrook struggled against the excellent Memphis Grizzlies defense, losing 85-74 and falling once again below .500.
Of course, in typical Thunder fashion, all they blamed was the fact that they missed open shots and their opponents didn’t. We never expect from players and coaches to expose their strategies, but it’s quite clear that at least on offense, the Thunder’s “system” is well known to everyone and the individual ability of Westbrook and Durant, when they’re healthy, isn’t good enough to lift this team above their middling record, at least this season.
Durant shot just 5-of-16 from the field, missing all five 3-point attempts, scoring 15 points. Russell Westbrook finished with 14 points, also missing 11 shots of his 16 attempts. The Thunder were held to just 22 points in the paint and 34.6% from the field in a game that can only be described as “ugly” which suits the Memphis Grizzlies just fine, built a lot better to win these type of games when the ball finds it quite difficult to sink through the net.
Zach Randolph led the Grizzlies with 21 points and 18 rebounds, including 10 on the offensive glass. Marc Gasol wasn’t as dominant offensively but still finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds, combined with his usual brand of excellent defense, which made Kendrick Perkins, Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka look very bad and giving the Thunder zero help when it came to their two stars looking for another way to breach the seemingly impregnable defense.
If this was just a one time thing, the Thunder could have brushed it off as a bad shooting day. But with or without Durant, this offense isn’t going anywhere. The Grizzlies have tried to make changes in the concept over the years. From a grinding team that relies on defense and scoring in the paint they’ve added more creative scorers and shooters. It doesn’t always pan out (only 37% from the field in this win) but the additions of Jeff Green, Courtney Lee and Vince Carter seem to have been working.
And maybe the Thunder are in the same place the Grizzlies were last season – a team falling a bit too far behind the rest of the ultra competitive and difficult West because of an injury to their best player. After Marc Gasol came back from injury the Grizzlies made their way back into playoff contention, got a low seed and dragged their series with the Oklahoma City Thunder to seven games in the first round. They also knocked them off a year earlier, with Westbrook’s injury hovering as a good excuse for the Thunder to use.
This season the Thunder can’t get a rhythm going except for their 8-game win streak earlier on when Durant came back from his first injury. Since then it’s been on and off for both him and Westbrook, who look often testy in games and unable to reproduce the ability that made the Thunder gamble everything on the both of them, at least not on a consistent and high enough level. The deeper we get into the season, the more likely it becomes that this team misses the playoff, and the failure of their team building around the stars with a flurry of controversial decisions gets exposed.