The Memphis Grizzlies weren’t really able to slow down Kevin Durant, but they had no problem stopping the rest of the Oklahoma City Thudner players, as the return of Marc Gasol to the lineup bouyed them towards a 90-87 win.
Gasol missed 23 games (10-13 without him in which the Grizzlies struggled to be the team from the last three years. He played only 24 minutes in his return, but scored 12 points and added 4 rebounds, not to mention the defense and the intelligence when he was with the ball on offense. The Grizzlies still aren’t in the place they were last season when they overcame the Thunder and made it to the conference finals, but this game was something of a way to reminisce.
Russell Westbrook isn’t playing (out at least until the All-Star break), and the Thunder look ordinary without him, going 5-5 since being deactivated. Durant scored 37 points, his fourth consecutive 30+ game of the season, but he seems to be on his own in the fight. Not that he’s letting other players chip in too much. The rest of the starters scored 30 points, shooting 36.3% from the field. Reggie Jackson can’t be the player the Thunder hoped he’d turn into, while the presence of Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha meant it was quite easy for the Grizzlies to handle the Thunder’s main lineup.
Not that the bench did much better. For now, the Thunder seem frightened of putting on a mostly offensive lineup. Jeremy Lamb shot badly but did score 9 points. Derek Fisher struggled, but Scott Brooks might need to start thinking about giving Adams more minutes. Yes, the Thunder do have a good thing going for them defensively with the starting lineup, but Durant needs help, and it might be worth giving up on a little defense if it makes the Thunder a more dangerous team on the offensive side.
The end result was not a lot of defense and not enough offense as well. Courtney Lee had his best game since joining the Grizzlies, scoring 24 points and finding it quite easy to blow by defenders. Zach Randolph plowed anyone in his path in the paint with 23 points, while Mike Conley, who had an enjoyable moment of ‘breaking’ Durant’s ankles (he really shouldn’t be trying to take on elusive point guards), finished with 19 points and 7 assists. There wasn’t much from the bench, but the return of Gasol seemed to give everyone the necessary boost to come through with the close win.
Everybody is excited, especially for him. He’s been itching to get out there forever, and I thought he did great. It gave us a good boost.
The Grizzlies are now three games behind the 8th spot in the West, and it’ll be surprising if they don’t make it in if no more injuries get in the way. Speaking of injuries, some think that if the Thunder continue to struggle without Westbrook, who is travelling with the team, his return might be a bit sooner than initially thought.