The Oklahoma City Thunder (42-25) entered Friday night’s matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies (32-37) on fire after a big win against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday. OKC took an 18-point lead late in the first quarter, but Memphis quickly turned things around in the second quarter, and it was all Grizzlies the rest of the way.
The Thunder defense could not get a stop for anything as 6 different Memphis players finished with double-digit scoring, and OKC’s offense went cold as ice. In the end, the Grizzlies, desperate for a playoff spot, came away with the 121-92 thrashing of the Thunder.
Struggle Street for Shai
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been sensational in his first year in OKC, and among second-year players, he ranks near the top. He’s looked more refined in the bubble for the most part, but tonight he had not just his worst game recently, but perhaps his worst game of the season.
In 34 minutes, SGA finished with 10 points on just 3-of-13 (23.1%) from the field, including an abysmal 1-for-8 (12.5%) from downtown. He also tallied 3 rebounds and 3 assists, both below his typical averages, and he turned the ball over 3 times.
Everybody struggles at one time or another, but with the absence of Dennis Schröder from the bubble, now is not the time for Shai to fold. This is the ideal time for him to step up to the challenge and prove that he’s capable of running the team on his own, not just playing alongside Chris Paul, but he’s not put on a very good display in his last couple of outings.
Live by the 3, Die by the 3
Oklahoma City is a mediocre three-point shooting team. On the season, the Thunder knocks down 35.4% from downtown, putting them right in the middle at 16th in the league.
Tonight, OKC got off to a hot start from deep as they knocked down 7 of their first 11 three-point shots, but they went on to make just 6-of-32 the rest of the way to finish 13-of-43 (30.2%) overall.
The Thunder’s problem tonight, and what has often been the case with a hot start, is once they start hitting threes, they gravitate towards shooting more of them instead of focusing on what got them there in the first place. OKC’s open shots early were created by driving hard to the basket and then kicking to an open shooter. Unfortunately, the Thunder kept throwing up shots from deep instead of attacking the rim, and it ended up costing them better shot opportunities.
Friday’s loss can serve as a lesson moving forward that just because you hit some shots early does not mean that they will continue to fall the rest of the way. OKC is at their best when they attack the basket, and unfortunately, they did not do a lot of that against the Grizzlies.
Steven Adams Was Missed
Steven Adams took a hard fall in Wednesday’s matchup with the Lakers, so he took Friday off with a lower left leg contusion. His absence was one that severely impacted the game, unfortunately.
Nerlens Noel started the game for the injured Adams, and the Thunder’s backup center got off to a solid start, scoring 6 points in the opening quarter. He struggled to defend Jonas Valanciunas, unfortunately, who finished the game with 19 points.
Noel is an adequate backup, but the role that Adams plays on both ends of the floor is one that cannot be easily filled. Adams should be back in action on Sunday against the Wizards, though, so hopefully the Thunder can rebound from this tough loss.
Thunder Player of the Game
There weren’t very many bright spots for OKC in this matchup, but rookie Luguentz Dort continued his impressive outing on Wednesday against the Lakers with a solid followup performance.
In 30 minutes, Dort racked up 16 points on 6-of-9 (66.7%) from the floor thanks to his lights out shooting from three-point land (4-of-5, 80%). He also added 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal.
It’s becoming more and more apparent that even after a streak of rough shooting, he’s not afraid to keep putting up shots. It paid off for him against the Grizzlies, so perhaps this is something he can keep going.
The Thunder’s next matchup is slated for Sunday afternoon against the Washington Wizards (24-44). OKC and Washington met early in the season, a 97-85 decision for the Wizards, but the two teams have taken much different paths since then. The Thunder is fighting for a top-4 seed in the West, while the Wizards have all but been eliminated from playoff contention.
Still, any team in the NBA is capable of a win on any given night, so OKC needs to take care of business and get the win so they can get ready for Monday’s game against the Phoenix Suns (30-39).
Tip-off for Sunday’s game against the Wizards is set for 11:30 AM CT, and it will be televised on Fox Sports Oklahoma. It will also be broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM.