By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript
OKLAHOMA CITY — Riding a three-game losing streak, the questions surrounding Oklahoma City began to all sound the same. “What is wrong with the Thunder?”
Russell Westbrook knew there was only one way to get the questions and doubt to cease and that was to come up with a win Friday when the Thunder hosted their nemesis, the Memphis Grizzlies. Playing without two starters for most of the night, they pulled out a 113-107 victory at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“We won,” Westbrook said. “That’s what I’m going to take from it. We just lost three in a row. We just won so that’s what I’m going to take from it. Right about now, this time of the year, it’s about to be March. Once March hits, all you want to do is win games and get your mind right for the playoffs.”
However, the win didn’t come easily. The Grizzlies had been playing solid ball themselves, winning five of the past six games entering the night. Since they last met the Thunder Jan. 14, they had only allowed two teams to score more than 100 points.
After a slow start, Kevin Durant scored 17 points in the third quarter to help the Thunder go up 87-71 heading into the fourth quarter.
However, Mike Miller came off the bench for the Grizzlies (32-25) and helped cut the lead to six points with 4:22 left in the game. He was not only knocking down 3-pointers but was taking his defenders off the dribble.
With Thabo Sefolosha straining his left calf in the first half, the Thunder (44-15) brought in Perry Jones III to match up with Miller.
The Grizzlies cut it to four with 3:33 left. Miller had a chance to trim the deficit to two, but he missed a tip-in layup. Durant made them pay on the other end with a step-back jumper.
Memphis’ James Johnson answered with a 3-pointer to make the score 105-102. After a miss by Reggie Jackson, Durant was called for a technical during a timeout. However, Miller missed the ensuing foul shot.
The Grizzlies went to Marc Gasol in the paint with Durant guarding him. Gasol missed a shot and Durant responded by knocking down a corner jumper to push the Oklahoma City advantage to five.
The Thunder came up with a defensive stop and Durant hit another midrange jumper over Gasol’s outstretched arms with 33 seconds left to put the game out of reach.
“Kevin Durant was spectacular,” Memphis coach David Joerger said. “We had three of my guys trying to guard him.”
Durant scored 30 of his game-high 37 points in the second half and shot 12-for-24. Westbrook scored 21 points in 29 minutes. He also racked up six assists and three steals. Forward Serge Ibaka added 16 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots.
Miller led the Grizzlies with 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field. That included 4 of 5 from behind the arc.
“Mike was shooting the ball well,” Grizz guard Mike Conley said. “He’s obviously on another level. He’s already on another level than most people. He can really get it going and when he does, we’re a tough team. We’re proud of the way he carried us down the stretch.”
Memphis forward Zach Randolph had 13 points and 10 rebounds but did not play during much of the fourth quarter. Gasol finished with 17 points.
“It feels great,” Durant said. “We never take them for granted, especially after learning that lesson after losing three in row. It’s tough to swallow. It feels good to get a W.”
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NOTES: It was reported that the veteran forward Caron Butler agreed to sign with Oklahoma City after the Milwaukee Bucks bought out his contract on Thursday. Butler will not clear waivers until Saturday, so the Thunder had no official comment. F Kevin Durant gave his impression of Butler. “Tough, tough player, that’s why they call him Tough Juice, I guess,” Durant said. “He plays hard and from I’ve seen he’s a team-first guy and he’s a long, strong defender, so he could do a lot for us.” ... Before the game, Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks did not put much stock in the stat that only two NBA champions have ever lost four straight games at any point during the regular season. “You can probably find a bunch of different things in every season,” Brooks said. “No team that’s won 82 games either has ever won a championship. I’m not sure. You might want to look at the numbers.” ... Memphis coach Dave Joerger has complained about the PA system volume at Thunder games. “We got on the plane last time and every one of our people were just, like, their ears were ringing,” Joerger said. “You don’t get that in other places. The music’s awfully loud. It just is what it is. We’re all people. We all have a work environment. If I cannot communicate yelling at the top of my lungs from you to me away no matter where it is, it’s too loud, in my opinion.”
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