THUNDER: Despite oddities, OKC keeps it going against Memphis

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) and Memphis Grizzlies forward Bruno Caboclo (5) reach for the ball behind Thunder forward Patrick Patterson (54 during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019.

OKLAHOMA CITY — On the day Marc Gasol was traded to the Toronto Raptors, meaning the 7-foot-1 center would not be taking the Chesapeake Energy Arena floor on behalf of the Memphis Grizzlies, the Thunder decided to put up 28 3-point attempts before the half.

Without a big man to meet him in the middle Thursday night, for no obvious reason, Oklahoma City center Steven Adams did not attempt a shot in the first half.

And Russell Westbrook’s shooting woes continued. At one point, OKC’s point guard was a mere 3 of 13 from the floor, one of his misses a botched two-handed slam that finished out of bounds at mid-court, the fierceness of his athletic faux pas so profound.

Also?

Also, the Thunder rolled over the Grizzlies 117-95, perhaps not playing entirely to form, yet playing very effectively nonetheless.

Of course, there was a flip-side to OKC’s oddities.

The Thunder eased off a bit on their long-range ways, cutting their second-half trifecta pursuits to just 16 attempts. And when it was over, they’d made a reasonable 38.6 percent (17 of 44) from beyond the arc.

Adams scored OKC’s first six points of the third quarter and finished with nine in the frame, fueling the opening stages of the Thunder’s pull-away.

Westbrook, meanwhile, finished 5 of 16 from the floor, yet more impressively, completed eighth straight triple double — 16 points, 13 rebounds, 15 assists — by the middle of the third quarter and can tie Wilt Chamberlain’s 1968 record of nine straight triple doubles Saturday night at Houston.

Should he do that, he can break the Stilt’s record back in Oklahoma City on Monday against Portland.

There were some reasons for the oddities.

“They played zone, they packed the paint, they did not want anything coming to the rim,” OKC coach Billy Donovan said. “They really were not concerned about matchups at all … Sometimes you’ve got to take what the defense gives you.”

Still, that first half was only good for a 3-point deficit. However, Adams got the Thunder moving out of intermission, Westbrook continued setting everybody up and, by the end, the Thunder were just enjoying watching each other make plays.

“It’s a great feeling to see your teammates doing well,” Westbrook said.

Paul George led with 27 points, breaking his string of five straight with 30 or more. Jerami Grant made 8 of 11 shots and finished with 20. Dennis Schroder added 16 off the bench and Adams finished with 11.

A measure of how much fun OKC’s having, after Westbrook blew his first-half dunk, he stopped on his way back up the court and peered closely at the still shaking basket, as though to understand what might have happened.

The crowd laughed and applauded as he played up his inquisitiveness.

In the second half, after a similar steal and a dunk in which Westbrook relaxed as he put the ball through the hoop with only fraction of the force of his previous miss, the care he took cracked up both Grant and Terrance Ferguson as they retreated to play defense.

Memphis, shorthanded after unloading players at the trade deadline, played like a tired team late and was outscored 66 to 42 after the half.

Jaren Jackson led the Grizzlies with 27 points, yet only seven after the half.

Bruno Caboclo added 16 and Ivan Rabb and Mike Conley both finished with 15.

The Thunder have won 9 of 10 games and, at 35-19, are 16 games over .500 for the first time this season with three games to play before the All-Star break.

“You’ve just got to have fun out there,” Schroder said, “and just play how we play.”

Lately, that’s been very well.


Horning is senior sports columnist for The Norman Transcript, a CNHI News Service publication.

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