Sunday, February 1, 2015

Next Day Notes: Grizzlies 85, Thunder 74

Posted By on Sun, Feb 1, 2015 at 3:59 AM

click to enlarge Jeff Green seconds before leaving a very large impact crater where the FedExForum used to be. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Jeff Green seconds before leaving a very large impact crater where the FedExForum used to be.

It was the most physical game these two teams have ever played against each other; the final score is reflective of that, not to mention the fact that both teams’ field goal percentages were well south of 40%. But the Grizzlies won, 85-74, and they did so by doing what they’re most known for: churning out brilliant defensive play after brilliant defensive play, unleashing Zach Randolph to fight through ferocious interior defense to the tune of 21 points and 18 rebounds, making just enough big plays from the perimeter to keep OKC honest, and most of all feeding on a crowd who, on Wrestling Night, hoisting World Grizzlyweight Championship belts, watching Ric Flair dance around and cheering on Jerry “The King” Lawler as he fought an Oklahoma City challenger during a real honest-to-God wrestling match during halftime, made the Grindhouse ring like it only does during Games That Matter.

Tonight was the loudest I’ve heard the building since the Warriors rolled into town before Christmas. The belts were cool, but the reason the place was packed had nothing to do with promotions.

The hard-fought nature of the game wasn’t surprising given the history between these two teams (up to and including the Zach Randolph “punch” to the face of OKC’s Steven Adams that earned him a suspension for Game 7 of last year’s playoff series) but the violence seemed especially pitched last night, on both ends of the floor. Anyone traveling through the restricted area with the ball seemed to expect—and receive—a great deal of contact, which more often than not wasn’t whistled for a foul. The referees last night were clearly of a mind to “let them play,” and for a team like the Grizzlies that can really thrive on basketball games that more closely resemble a barfight, it was like unleashing an eight-year-old in a Chuck E. Cheese with a potato sack full of tokens.

Maybe the best outcome of the game was that the Thunder fell to 23-24 on the season, and with Phoenix winning at a steady rate lately, anything that puts space between the Suns and the Thunder is a good thing for the Grizzlies, who are starting to build their own lead for the 2nd or 3rd seed. The Thunder may now be below .500 on the season, but that doesn’t mean it’d do the Grizzlies any good to have to play them in the playoffs. WE’ve seen that happen just a few more times than anybody wants, and as much fun as it is to watch them battle, I’d prefer the Grizzlies (2) play someone who isn’t the Clippers, Thunder, or Spurs in the playoffs for a change but most importantly (1) have a straightforward first round series where they just have to take care of business against a team that they are better than.

click to enlarge Zach Randolph had 21 and 18 against the Thunder on Wrestling Night, which was very appropriate. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Zach Randolph had 21 and 18 against the Thunder on Wrestling Night, which was very appropriate.

Game Notes

➭ Zach Randolph continued his streak of dominance, putting up 21 points and 18 rebounds against a Thunder interior defense that has given him all kinds of trouble over the past four years of playoff series. Inside, against the squad of Nick Collison, Steven Adams, and Kendrick Perkins, Randolph struggled a little out of the gate, but soon found his shot, and with Serge Ibaka occupied trying to keep This Year’s Scoring Marc Gasol from doing what he’s done in so many other big games, Randolph was able to take over in a way that only he can in these sorts of ugly, smashmouth games. Maybe the fact that Ric Flair went over and introduced himself to Z-Bo during one of the timeouts while he was on the court and gave him a big hug inspired Randolph to pull out some Nature Boy moves of his own.

➭ Jeff Green did this:

Jeff Green is awesome. Against his former team, he was really solid, and was especially good on defense, not something he’s consistently good at. Last night he was part of the Grizzlies’ clampdown on everything OKC was trying to do, and it was glorious to watch. He also backed down Kevin Durant in the post a couple of times for layups, something I’m sure he did on a regular basis in practice while he played for the Thunder. Green showed a level of comfort and familiarity on the court last night that we haven’t seen from him often yet in his short Grizzlies career. Hopefully last night was a preview of where Green will be in March and April.

➭ With Vince Carter out with a “left foot tendon injury” being “reevaluated at one-week intervals,” as noncommittal of an injury report as I think I’ve ever heard, the immediate beneficiary last night was Nick Calathes. In 9 minutes, he had 4 points and 2 assists, but his real impact wasn’t in the usual counting stats. Calathes was mostly playing at the same time as Beno Udrih, and Calathes’ length allowed him to be a real problem for OKC on defense. He’s credited with 2 steals and a block, and he was even more active than that suggests, getting his hands in the Thunder’s passing lanes, knocking away balls that Westbrook then had to go chase down, and just generally being a nuisance. If the Carter injury clears up enough time in the rotation for Calathes to get significant minutes and continue the upward trajectory he started on last year, it’s a definite silver lining to an unfortunate injury situation for the Grizzlies.

➭ There was another Greek-American Grizzly who had a good night that wasn’t totally reflected in the box score last night: Kosta Koufos. His toughness really paid off against Perkins and Adams in his minutes spelling Marc Gasol. He had 4 points in 7 rebounds in his 15 minutes, and generally anchored the interior when Gasol and Randolph clearly needed a breather. We also saw Joerger’s preferred way to deploy Koufos—paired with Zach Randolph—and those were solid minutes, and really it’s probably the best way to take advantage of the skillsets of both players at the same time, without them getting in the way of each other.

Tweet of the Night

Matt Hrdlicka managed to capture this exquisite Conley-Gasol-Randolph hockey assist fast break:


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