Woodward, Okla. —
By Michael Kinney
CNHI News Service
OKLAHOMA CITY— Oklahoma City prides itself on being a tough team. It doesn’t get intimidated and it normally doesn’t let teams physically push them around.
That changed Wednesday when Memphis came to town. The Grizzlies battered, bruised and physically outplayed the defending Western Conference Champions on their way to a 107-97 victory at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“It’s definitely emotional, it’s definitely tough,” Memphis guard Quincy Pondexter said. “But that’s the way we like to play basketball. We have some real gritty and grimy guys out there. That’s the way we win.”
In a game that featured two teams that pride themselves on how hard they play, it was Memphis (6-1) who came up with all the big defensive stands and huge shots in the fourth quarter every time Oklahoma City (6-3) made a run.
After getting the lead down to 97-89 with more than four minutes left, it looked like Oklahoma City was set to take off. But Memphis just went down low to Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph on consecutive trips and they restored order. The Thunder had no answer and fans began to stream out of the building.
Rudy Gay was unstoppable for Memphis. He poured in 28 points with Kevin Durant guarding him the entire night. He was 12 of 21 from the floor, hauled in six rebounds and had five assists.
Randolph added 20 points and 11 rebounds before he was tossed out of the game after getting into an altercation with the Thunder’s Kendrick Perkins.
“Oh yeah, it felt like a playoff game,” Randolph said. “The intensity, and it was very physical out there. The intensity was there and the guys were playing hard and going hard. It definitely felt like a playoff game.”
Durant posted 34 points in the loss. Russell Westbrook chipped in with 17 points, 13 assists and six boards.
Oklahoma City’s bench was outscored 31-13. Kevin Martin was held to seven points on only four shots.
“We don’t want to go into a game and only give him four shots,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “He’s too good of a scorer and too good of a guy who can move without the ball.”
Thabo Sefolosha sparked the Thunder early with a couple of 3-pointers as they took a 10-point lead in the first quarter. But Memphis slowly closed the gap in the second period. Even though it wasn’t shooting well from the field, it was able to claw its way back and tied the game at 36-36 with 6:35 left in the first half..
Memphis outscored Oklahoma City 36-15 in the second quarter.
Coming out of halftime, Memphis didn’t let up as Randolph began to exert himself. That included grabbing a rebound over Perkins and putting it back up. He did the same thing the next time down the court as the Grizzlies found themselves leading 65-49.
The intensity picked up in the period as the teams exchanged verbal shots and several staredowns after each basket. This seemed to get Oklahoma City going and it was able to close the gap to 81-71 heading into the fourth.
“The second quarter, they just went on a tear,” Durant said. “They made a lot of tough shots tonight. Tough contested 2s. That’s what we hang our hat on, making them shoot tough shots. We dug ourselves a hole and it’s tough to fight back.”