It’s sad when the Memphis Grizzlies circle a road game on their schedule as a “For Sure” win. Well, that was the case when the Grizzlies came limping into Oklahoma City to take on the Thunder.
The Thunder thought they’d try a new way of losing: Blowing a 21-point lead. Under no uncertain circumstances, fans witnessed bad basketball at its finest last night.
Two of the League’s best rookies were on display, as the Grizzlies’ O.J. Mayo matched up with the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook. The two brought a Southern California feel to the game, after they suited up for USC and UCLA a year ago, respectively.
SLAM caught up with Westbrook before the game to discuss the rookie duel and his familiarity with Mayo.
SLAM: Everyone followed you and O.J. last season, how close are you two?
Russell Westbrook: Oh yeah, I know him real well. We’re close off the floor. He’s going to be a tremendous player for a long time in this League.
SLAM: When the two of you were in L.A., how much would you guys get together and play pickup games?
RW: A couple of times in the summer, he would come down to UCLA, if the NBA guys were coming to town and we’d play. I don’t know how much he’s going to be back down there now, but he used to come play with us when Earl (Watson) and Baron (Davis) would come back.
SLAM: How familiar are you with his game? Enough to lock him down if you match up with him?
RW: Well, I played against him a lot of times, so I am pretty familiar with his game. I’d have to say, though, he’s improved and gotten a lot better over the course of making the transition to the League.
SLAM: Do you look at a game like this as a chance to standing out for early Rookie of the Year consideration?
RW: Not really. I just want to come out and try to help my team and put my team in the best position to win.
— Something had to give when two bad teams met. O.J.’s first shot is good from three. Russell makes a nice play of his own, driving down the middle and leaving it for Nick Collison for a two-hand dunk.
— Jeff Green had some games were he looks special and some games were he completely disappears. He’s off to a quick start tonight.
— The Thunder gets hot at the end of the quarter, behind the play of their former UCLA point guards (Westbrook and Earl Watson). They lead 29-23 at the end of one, despite 16 points combined from Rudy Gay and Mayo.
— Things are getting interesting. And I do mean interesting.
— Desmond Mason is throwing everybody’s shot into press row. It looks like he still has a little spring left in those legs.
— Mayo gets ripped twice by trying to force his dribble, leading to Thunder transition baskets.
— The Thunder push the lead to as much as 21. But the Quinton Ross show starts.
— Ross closes the gap to 12 (51-39), prompting a timeout from Thunder interim coach Scott Brooks at the 2:51 mark.
— Mayo hits a double-clutch fadeaway over Westbrook that was just filthy.
— Rudy takes it himself instead of passing the rock to O.J. on a 2-on-1 break. Rudy gets to the foul line, but the two have words from a distance and O.J. storms off in disgust.
— Stay tuned… this could prove to get uglier and uglier.
— Thunder’s lead dwindles to seven, taking a 55-48 edge into the break.
— I’m told by sources close to the organization that several Memphis players had words with Mayo about the way he acted toward Gay’s choice not to pass it to Mayo on that transition play. (This could make headlines down the road.)
— The quarter opens with two feeds (from Gay and Mayo) to Darko Milicic, of all players. He’s starting to finish strong. Good thing to see from the former No. 2 overall pick.
— Darrell Arthur proves to have a pretty nice jumper, and he shots it with confidence.
— Early in the third, Mayo picks up his third foul and Coach Marc Iavaroni decides to take him out. The Grizzlies struggle in the half-court. Mayo returns at the 3:00 mark, but he picks up his fourth inside the last minute of the quarter. He wouldn’t play again tonight.
— The Thunder took an 83-76 lead into the fourth, but no lead is safe when it comes to the Thunder.
— The reason Mayo never returned, according to Coach Iavaroni, is because Quinton Ross and Mike Conley took the game over. After a Conley three tied the game at 85-85, the OKC crowd tried to come alive, but it would do no good.
— Conley and Ross play the entire fourth, and Conley did the most with his opportunity. M.C. exploits the Thunder’s defense for 14 points, putting the Thunder out of their misery (or continuing their misery).
— No last-second heroics from Kevin Durant on this night, as the Grizzlies outscore the Thunder 32-19 in the fourth, on their way to a 108-102 win.
— All that aside, the real mystery is what is the deal with O.J. Mayo in Memphis?
SLAM: Did you just really like what you were getting out of Quinton Ross and Mike Conley, so you decided not to go back to the starters (Mayo and Lowry)?
Marc Iavaroni: Yeah, it’s all about energy and what you feel out there. Guys on this team are mature enough to handle it. I’m not keeping people off the court as much as I’m necessarily keeping people on the court. That’s what keeps people on the court—playing hard and smart together—and I’ll ride it as long as I can, until it needs to change.
(Mayo casually made his way out of the locker room while reporters questioned his teammates.)
SLAM: Personally, what does it do for you to know that Coach Iavaroni will stick with you and Quinton down the stretch?
Mike Conley: It’s a great confidence booster. Coach believes in everyone on this team, and he shows it. No matter if you’re the first guy or the 12th guy, if you play the way you’re supposed to play then you’re going to be in the game. I thought the bench stepped up tonight, and we really played well together.
SLAM: Coach Iavaroni is really preaching balance and a total team effort the whole game, do you think you guys got that tonight?
MC: I think we did. It was a total team effort, you know. Not one or two guys stood out. Everybody came to play tonight, and we made some big plays down the stretch, defensively. That’s an area that we want to get better at each game, so I think that was a big step for us tonight.
SLAM: Have you ever been this frustrated before in your career?
Nick Collison: This is the most miserable season I’ve ever been apart of, 2-21. It’s tough, you know. Hopefully we will start winning, and things will go a lot better. It’s tough, you know. I don’t really know what to say at this point. It’s been the same thing each game, and the only thing we can do at this point is try to get better.