You know the last day of the school year when you didn’t have to do anything, but they still made you show up and go through the motions?
Welcome to game 82 of the NBA regular season, slightly exacerbated by the fact that the Memphis Grizzlies had a record of 22-59 heading in.
With more than half the roster on the injury report, Memphis lost their 60th game of the season to the Oklahoma City Thunder, 137-123, behind Dillon Brooks’ team- and career-high 36 points.
The game started fast and loose; what did the Grizzlies have to lose by being conservative? The offense moved with a purpose, didn’t hesitate to take shots, and hit those shots to a tune of 52.2% percent in the first quarter. The talent disadvantage then would start to show itself, particularly on the defensive end. The very good Steven Adams was made to look even better by poor pick-and-roll defense and no strong enough physical presence to combat him.
Russell Westbrook, who needed 16 rebounds to average a triple-double for the second consecutive season (and got them), made his presence known in the first quarter with a hell of a stat line: 1 point, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals in just the first 10 minutes of play.
On the Memphis side, Dillon Brooks was aggressive on offense, scoring 11 points in the first frame on 4-8 shooting. However, the Thunder took the lead going into the second quarter, 38-28.
Oklahoma City managed to keep a healthy lead throughout the second quarter. While Memphis’ offense was doing alright for itself, it wasn’t doing enough to keep up with OKC’s firepower. The Thunder were still shooting 67% from the field AT HALFTIME.
Omari Johnson and Mario Chalmers (7 and 9 points respectively at the half) did well to keep the offense afloat, but OKC had Paul George and Steven Adams doing the scoring. That’s a better combination, some might say.
Russell Westbrook might have been playing selfishly to meet his rebound mark, but he wasn’t selfish with the basketball when he had it. He notched 12 dang assists in just the first half, which is what lead to George and Adams leading the Thunder in scoring at the half with 26 and 18 points, respectively, on a combined 15-19 shooting. Thunder took their largest lead of the game into halftime, 77-57.
In the third quarter, Russell Westbrook grabbed his 16th rebound and clinched the triple-double average for the season. He got a nice standing ovation midway through the quarter, and that was the icing on top of OKC’s offensive barrage. It was like they were running a scrimmage while Memphis needed to have 120% effort to manage a shot against a tough defense.
Dillon Brooks brought that 120% effort. He scored 16 points in the third quarter alone on 7/7 shooting, giving him 32 in the first three quarters. While the game wasn’t necessarily close, he kept it competitive with big shot after big shot. To top it off, Myke Henry hit a three-pointer in the final seconds of the quarter cut the lead to single digits, 105-96 with the Thunder still on top.
The final 12 minutes of this game, and each team’s regular season, made for quite the finale. Memphis hit their second four-point play of the night in the first couple of minutes, while chasing down rebounds like a playoff game. Ivan Rabb, whose progression this season has come slow and steady, was incredibly assertive, grabbing offensive rebounds and going up with them without hesitation.
Memphis has always been built on contributions from where you least expect them (see Brooks, MarShon) and tonight was a shining example. Dillon Brooks, Omari Johnson, Ivan Rabb, Kobi Simmons, Mario Chalmers, Deyonta Davis, and Ben McLemore all surpassed their nightly scoring average in this match-up.
It didn’t matter against the huge cushion the Thunder had built for themselves. They were even able to sustain an injury to Corey Brewer (well wishes to Brewer) and Nick Collison missing 3-of-3 free throws as the replacement shooter.
The Thunder had their playoff fates determined, but needed to win for a chance at the #4 seed. Instead of pulling their starters when it was a comfy lead, coach Billy Donovan kept them in to make sure Memphis’ comeback didn’t get too close. Oklahoma City would go on to win, 137-123, behind Russell Westbrook’s 6 points, career-high 20 rebounds, and 19 assists.
For the final time in the 2017-18 season, this is Grizzly Bear Blues game recap coverage signing off. Thank you, readers, for making a tumultuous season as fun as possible to keep our sanity.
(The lottery is May 15th, by the way.)