Improvements From Game Two Not Enough For Thunder

Saturday, May 11th 2013, 9:52 pm
By: News 9

Kevin Durant knelt near the free throw line in front of the Oklahoma City bench, head between his knees. Kevin Martin walked over, said a few consoling words and moved on, leaving Durant to wallow in his disbelief.

Everything the Thunder did wrong in Game 2 against the Memphis Grizzlies Tuesday night, they did right in Game 3 Saturday afternoon. They grabbed 14 offensive rebounds to just five for Memphis; they outscored the Grizzlies 44-30 in the paint; they racked up 23 fast break points against just seven points for Memphis.

Yet, despite correcting every problem that led to a Grizzlies win in Game 2, the Thunder still fell to Memphis Saturday, 87-81.

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It doesn't take long to find the reason for the loss that puts the Thunder in a 2-1 series hole against the rough and tumble Grizzlies. Oklahoma City simply didn't shoot the ball well. The Thunder shot a paltry 36.4 percent from the field, 5-of-18 from 3-point range, and a stunning 12-of-19 performance from the free throw that included two clanked attempts from Durant with 39 seconds left and Oklahoma trailing 85-81.

Those free throws were the picture everyone will remember about Game 3. Despite the abysmal offensive performance, the Thunder managed to tie the game at 81 on a Derek Fisher 3-pointer with 1:58 remaining in the game. Oklahoma City had been down by as many as 10 points in the game and nine points in the second half, but still found the strength to fight back.

After Fisher's 3-pointer, Oklahoma City collapsed. There's no other way to put it. The struggles the Thunder experienced on offense never went away; they simply faded for stretches. However in the last two minutes, those struggles were as obvious as the blue on the Thunder uniforms.

Oklahoma City's offensive possessions in the last two minutes were as follows:

Offensive foul on Reggie Jackson on a fast break layup, missed jumper from Durant, two missed free throws from Durant, missed 3-pointer from Fisher, missed free throw line jumper from Martin.

That doesn't even include the second bone-headed foul from Reggie Jackson, one 75 feet from the basket with Oklahoma City trailing by just two points with 50 seconds remaining. Jackson was instrumental in the Thunder's comeback, slashing to the basket consistently and bringing back images of a certain point guard that helped lead Oklahoma City to a franchise-best 60 wins in the regular season.

Jackson's most impressive play actually came on the defensive end, when he stripped Mike Conley in the middle of a crossover and raced in for a dunk that cut the Memphis lead to two points.

However, for all the good Jackson did to help bring Oklahoma City back, his two fouls in the waning moments of the game showed his inexperience and where the Thunder misses Russell Westbrook the most.

The Thunder may be down in the series, but they're a few plays away from being up 3-0. They're also a couple plays away from being down 3-0. Even though things certainly look bleak, the series is far from over and the Thunder has proven they can play with the Grizzlies, even beat them at their own game like they did on Saturday.

If Oklahoma City is going to keep this series from getting out of hand, they simply have to score. The past two games, the Thunder hasn't been missing a bunch of tough shots. Most of them have been open shots or, at the very least, good looks. Serge Ibaka and Martin have to be better than 6-for-17 from the field, but Durant also has to be better than his 3-for-11 for nine points in the second half.

Improvements were made for the Thunder, and they almost resulted in a Game 3 win on the road. Unfortunately for Oklahoma City, the collapse in the final two minutes prevented that from happening. The late-game ineffectiveness may be what stands out the most from this game, but it was just a game-long problem that reared its head at the worst possible time.