OKLAHOMA CITY — When Oklahoma City and Memphis face off, their games are never pretty. The winner is usually the team that finds a way to play through the pushing, shoving and hard fouls.
In their second matchup of the year, it was the Thunder who turned out to be that team Monday with an 86-77 victory over the Grizzlies at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Kevin Durant scored 31 points and racked up eight rebounds, eight assists and five turnovers in the win. It was his first 30-plus point game since his 13-game streak ended Friday in Brooklyn.
Oklahoma City (39-11) led by double digits much of the second half. But Memphis guard Courtney Lee cut the lead down to 78-75 with 4:53 left. Durant hit a jumper to push it back to five. After consecutive misses by Memphis Guard Mike Miller, Oklahoma City guard Thabo Sefolosha drained a 3-pointer.
The Grizz (26-11) tried to go to forward Zach Randolph in the paint, but Oklahoma City center Kendrick Perkins forced him to pass instead. Durant intercepted it and drove the court for a layup to put Oklahoma City ahead 85-75 with 2:52 remaining.
After three consecutive Memphis turnovers, Randolph came up with an offensive putback. An ill-advised 3-point attempt by Thunder guard Reggie Jackson gave the Grizz the ball with 46 seconds left. Lee was unable to connect on a long 3-pointer and Oklahoma City closed out the game at the free throw line.
Thunder forward Serge Ibaka collected 21 points and 12 rebounds. Jackson added 12 points on 6-for-15 shooting.
Randolph paced Memphis with 13 points and 13 rebounds. Gasol also scored 13 points on 5-for-11 shooting. Miller came off the bench to score 11 points.
After the way Memphis G Courtney Lee lit the Thunder up for 16 first quarter points in the team’s first encounter this season, Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks made sure to make a concerted effort to not let Lee have the same type of impact. That meant putting guard Sefolosha on him from the opening tap.
"He’s seems like a guy that’s taking advantage of his opportunity,” Brooks said of Lee. “When he got traded, he’s playing good basketball for them. He gives them another threat. They don’t take a lot of threes, but he’s the guy that can make threes. And make multiple threes and in back to back possessions.”
Lee was held to six points in the first period and the Thunder held a 20-18 advantage.
Ibaka pummeled on the Grizzlies on the backboard in the first half. He had a double-double before halftime. His offensive rebounds allowed Oklahoma City to rack up 13 second chance points.
The Thunder ended the first half on a 20-4 run to take a 51-36 halftime advantage.
Memphis grinded down Oklahoma City’s lead to five points midway through the period. Gasol and Randolph began to pick up their offensive aggression and tried to take over the contest.
Notes: With Memphis guard Mike Conley out with a sprained ankle for at least a week, the Grizzlies signed G Darius Morris to a 10-day contract. But it was G Nick Calathes who got the start in Conley’s place. After leading his team to a 12-3 record in the month of January, Memphis coach David Joerger was named the Western Conference coach of the month.
“Certainly getting Marc (Gasol) back has been important,” Joerger said. “But we started playing well.” ... Oklahoma City F Kevin Durant has been paying attention to the debate on what his nickname should be.
While he hasn’t offered any options, he does know the Slim Reaper is not his favorite. “I’m here to shine a bright light, not here to be a guy of death,” Durant said.
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