If it wasn't already, the NBA has been put on notice. Oklahoma City is back and looks ready to take the league by storm in the second half of the season.
Wednesday night was the latest example of this, as the Thunder dismantled Memphis, 105-89 at The Peake, to head into the All-Star Break on a high note.
The Thunder now begins an eight-day break three games above .500, the first time the team has been there all season. OKC is also alone in ninth place, thanks to another loss by New Orleans, and just a half game behind Phoenix for the eighth spot in the Western Conference. OKC plays the Suns in Phoenix in its fifth game after the break.
Less than two weeks ago, the Thunder looked positively hapless against the Grizzlies, scoring just 74 points for the entire game. Wednesday night, it was like Memphis was playing a completely different team. The Thunder surpassed the 74-point mark by the midway point of the third quarter.
While the offense was free-flowing—particularly in the first half when the Thunder posted 66 points, the most the Grizzlies have allowed in any half all season—it was the defense that led the Thunder to a big win. OKC held Memphis to 37.2 percent shooting and completely negated all of the Grizzlies' main options.
The Thunder's post defense was particularly good, holding Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph to a combined 7-of-25 shooting from the field and 24 points. The two scored just two points in the entire second half.
The Thunder seized control with a 15-0 run late in the second quarter that turned a close game into a romp. The run took just three minutes and included back-to-back Kevin Durant 3-pointers that stirred the crowd into a frenzy.
Injuries have been a concern all season for OKC and by the end of the night, Durant was playing with a pronounced limp. He was icing his right foot on the bench in the fourth quarter, and when he left the game for good, headed straight for the locker room. After the game, Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Durant's foot was just sore, a result of the process of complete recovery from the surgery he had on it earlier this season.
Brooks said there hasn't been any discussion about Durant not playing in Sunday's All-Star Game in order to get more rest, but said it would be a conversation to have.
When Durant wasn't limping, he was busy torching the Grizzlies to the tune of 26 points on 9-of-16 shooting. Russell Westbrook finished with 24 points and was a rebound and an assist away from a triple-double. Westbrook was just 4-of-15 from the field, but was 15-of-15 from the free throw line.
Meanwhile, Nick Collison came off the bench to score a season-high 15 points and also grabbed nine rebounds. It was nearly his first double-double in three seasons. Unfortunately, the Mitch McGary for MVP crowd was silenced on Wednesday. McGary crashed back to earth, fouling out without scoring a single point against the veteran bigs of the Grizzlies.
Things didn't look so good for the Thunder the last time they faced Memphis. Wednesday night, the matchup between the two teams was yet another sign Oklahoma City is back to playing at the level most expect of the Thunder.
Just a half game separates OKC from the playoffs right now and the second half of the season beckons.