By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Russell Westbrook tried to take all the blame. After Oklahoma watched a 25 point lead dwindle to two points against Memphis, the talented point guard said it was due to his erratic play in the third quarter.
“It’s on me, man. I’ve got to a do a better job,” Westbrook said Sunday. “I turned the ball over a few times. Pace got real slow. I was lagging. It won’t happen again. It was my fault.”
However, coach Scott Brooks wouldn’t let Westbrook shoulder all of the blame for the poor third period in which the Thunder were outscored 31-13.
“The thing I get to see every day is Russell is a winner,” Brooks said. “He plays hard. He plays for his team. We win a lot of games because he’s on the floor. The thing I love about our teams is that we all know we could have done a better job in that third quarter. It’s not on him. But that’s when you know you have a good team when everyone takes ownership.”
Even though the Thunder still won by 100-86 to take Game 1 of their first round series with the Grizzlies, Westbrook knows that type of unfocused play can keep the team from its ultimate prize.
“Not if you want to win a championship, it ain’t,” Westbrook said when asked if remaining focused is sometimes a challenge. “As a point guard that’s what I want to do. I’ve got to do a better job being focused. Especially the start of third quarters, coming out of halftime. That’s normally when teams relax and we were that team.”
Before the Thunder can think about playing for a championship, it still has to deal with the Grizzlies at 7 p.m. tonight in Game 2 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. They will meet a Memphis squad that plans to be more prepared for the type of force Oklahoma City used to build a 25 point advantage in the first place.
“They came to prove last year was fluke,” Memphis coach David Joerger said. “They came at us with a lot of force, except for the third quarter. We will make some adjustments, spacing wise. A little Xs and Os. But there wasn’t a lot of Xs and Os last night. It was straight up come at you. The difference in the game was easy baskets.”
The Grizz shot 36.3 percent from the field and 18 percent from behind the arc. They also missed 13 free throws.
But the biggest problem Memphis had was the inside presence of the Thunder big men. Especially Serge Ibaka, who finished with four blocked shots and even more alterations. Memphis center Marc Gasol knows he has to do a better job of limiting Ibaka’s effectiveness.
“You have to know he’s coming,” Gasol said. “You have to know Serge is coming from the weakside. I try to root him under the basket so he can’t just come over and block shots. He’s a unique player. He has unique talent. He has a great timing for those kind of blocked shots. We still have to play the game.”
The Grizzlies said they came to Oklahoma City looking to take two games. Now they are trying to at least earn a split before heading back to Memphis. It’s a situation they feel they are best suited to handle.
“We are a team that thrives off adversity to motivate ourselves,” Memphis guard Mike Conley said. “We’re going to go out there and play our basketball. We’re going to go out there and try and get into the paint, make plays early, not settle so much from the outside. And get better opportunities.”
Memphis will have Tayshaun Prince back in the lineup after he left Game 1 early due to illness. This allows them to set up their defensive rotations.
But the Thunder may have found the right formula for dealing with the physical brand of basketball the Grizzlies employ.
“That’s a physical team,” Westbrook said. “They do a great job of being physical. I think it’s very important for us to come out and hit first. Even if we don’t make shots, I think it’s important for us to come out and defend. The score can be 0-0 with five minutes left in the first as long as we come out and defend.”
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