Career Night From Abrines Fuels Thunder to Win in Memphis

Staring eight consecutive road losses in the face, the Oklahoma City Thunder looked to turn things around in Memphis as they took on the Grizzlies in a Saturday night matchup. The Thunder started off slowly, shooting poorly from the field, and the Grizzlies were able to jump out to a 15-6 lead. Carmelo Anthony would then hit consecutive shots to cut into the deficit a bit, but the rest of the offense was simply not up to par.

In the first quarter, the Thunder shot an awful 6/23 (26.1%) from the field, including Russell Westbrook’s 0/4 shooting output. Defensively, Oklahoma City allowed the Grizzlies, a 34% three-point shooting team (27th in the NBA), to shoot 4/7 (57.1%) from deep. At the end of the period, the Thunder trailed 19-34.

The second quarter looked to be no different, as Memphis pushed their lead to 20 points just two minutes into the period. Westbrook would check in and knock down a three and a layup to get something going, followed by a lay in from Andre Roberson, to cut the deficit to 15, but it made no difference as the Grizzlies pushed the lead right back to 20 with just under six minutes left in the first half.

Then, all of a sudden, Oklahoma City started to play better on both ends of the floor. In the last five minutes of the second quarter, the Thunder would go on a 17-7 run, thanks mostly to Westbrook and Steven Adams, who combined for 21 of the Thunder’s 27 points in the period. The defense would get some stops, but the Grizzlies were still able to find success in scoring, especially down low. After two quarters, Memphis outscored Oklahoma City 28-16 in points in the paint, and the Thunder would trail 46-57 at the half.

Oklahoma City came out in the third quarter playing with the same enthusiasm they found late in the first half as the defense was active and the offense was knocking down shots. Just a little over a minute into the period, the Thunder had trimmed the deficit to six, and the Grizzlies were forced to call a timeout. Memphis would hit a three out of the timeout, but Oklahoma City would then go on a 16-6 run to outscore the Grizzlies 21-9 in the third quarter. Adams and Westbrook continued to do damage as Adams put up another eight points, and Westbrook finished the quarter just a rebound shy of a triple-double. The Thunder would finish the period with a 67-66 lead.

The Thunder opened up the fourth quarter with the ball, and they went to work immediately. Patrick Patterson opened up the scoring by hitting a three, but Ben McLemore would answer for the Grizzlies by knocking down a three of his own. Oklahoma City and Memphis would go on to trade baskets for basically the entire quarter, and after 48 minutes of basketball, the score was all tied up at 92 apiece as the Thunder and the Grizzlies headed into overtime.

Neither team had played in an overtime game this season, and this felt like so many other close games this season where Oklahoma City squandered away a golden opportunity only to come up short. The Grizzlies scored first off a layup from Tyreke Evans before Alex Abrines would hit a three for the Thunder. Evans would then score on another layup followed by a made shot from Marc Gasol to give Memphis a three-point lead. Abrines stepped up to the plate once again and knocked down his sixth three of the night, a career-high in made threes for him, to give him a a career-high 20 points in the game Evans would answer with a three of his own to push the Grizzlies back up by three, and Westbrook would then miss a three of his own.

With under a minute to go, Westbrook was able to rebound a missed shot by Memphis, which would give him his eighth triple-double of the season. Billy Donovan made a smart decision to call a timeout and set up a play, which would set up Westbrook to score on a quick layup to cut the deficit to one. JayMychal Green would work his way to the basket for the Grizzlies, but he was fouled on his way to the basket. He stepped up to the free throw line for two attempts, only to miss both. Westbrook snagged the rebound after the second miss, and following another Thunder timeout, he drove into the paint, where he was fouled once again. He would knock down both free throws, giving him a stat line of 20 points, 14 assists, and 11 rebounds for the game, and the Thunder would hold on to pick up the 102-101 victory.

3 Quick Thoughts

  • Shots Need to be Redistributed: With the absence of Paul George for the second consecutive game, Oklahoma City was missing its most consistent scorer for the season so far. Averaging 17 shots a game, his attempts would have to go to someone, and while it would make sense for them to be spread out among some role players, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony basically ate those up. For the second game in a row, both Westbrook and Anthony shot terribly, combining for 14/49 (28.6%) from the field, including 3/18 (16.7%) from three, along with 10/18 from the free throw line (62.5%). When it comes down to it, shot selection was a bigger concern than shot percentage tonight. In the final minute of the game, Westbrook jacked up two threes, which were especially unnecessary considering that Alex Abrines was having a career-night. Both Westbrook and Anthony are going to have to go through a mindset change and decrease the number of bad shots, or the Thunder offense is going to continue to be an issue. By spreading out the shot attempts to role players, like Alex Abrines, the offense will begin to open in a new way, and opposing defenses will have a lot tougher time stopping Oklahoma City.
  • Fix Free Throw Shooting: Oklahoma City has struggled from the charity stripe all season long, but at this point in the season, it doesn’t even make sense anymore. Tonight was an especially poor performance as the Thunder made only 18 of 31 (58.1%) free throw attempts. This marked the fifth time of the season that the Thunder has shot below 60% from the free throw line, and in those games, Oklahoma City is 2-3. Free throws can make or break a game, and fortunately enough for the Thunder, they were on the right side of things tonight as the Grizzlies missed a number of important free throws in the end, while Russell Westbrook was able to knock down two clutch attempts. However, moving forward, free throw shooting needs to be more of a focus, or else the Thunder could easily end up on the other side of tonight’s result.
  • On the Bright Side…: It’s easy to look at an ugly win like tonight and point out all of the negatives. While Oklahoma City is nowhere near where they need to be, there has been some minor improvement lately, and it shouldn’t go unnoticed. After starting the season 1-9 in clutch games, the Thunder has won four of their last five in the clutch, giving them a clutch record of 5-10. Tonight was an especially important game because it was Oklahoma City’s first win on the road since Halloween when they defeated the Bucks in Milwaukee. While several of these wins as of late have not looked that great, the fact that the Thunder has figured out a way to finish strong and get the win is a good sign. Give this team some time as they continue to figure things out. It’s going to be a wild ride either way.

Back at the ‘Peake on Monday

The Thunder will be back in Oklahoma City on Monday to host the Charlotte Hornets. This will the Thunder’s lone home game in a six-game stretch. The Hornets have lost seven of their last eight games, as well as eight consecutive road games. The game will tip off at 7 PM and will be televised on FSOK. It will also be broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM.

Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter & Instagram, and give us a like on Facebook.

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