OKLAHOMA CITY — When the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies face off, the games are never pretty. The winner is usually the team that finds a way to play through the pushing, shoving and hard fouls.
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.
“Experience,” Oklahoma City guard Thabo Sefolosha said. “We know that team extremely well now from the number of times we’ve played against them. And just relying on one another, knowing what we’re supposed (to do), rebounding the ball as a team. That’s what we did tonight.”
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. Thunder forward Kevin Durant hit a jumper to push it back to five. After consecutive misses by Memphis guard Mike Miller, Sefolosha drained a 3-pointer.
The Grizzlies (26-11) went 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 Grizzlies 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.
“That first half, we put ourselves in a hole,” Lee said. “Starting off a little slow and getting down 15. I felt in the second half we came out and competed more.”
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.
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. Lee scored 11 and Miller came off the bench to post 11 points.
“It’s definitely going to be tough to let this loss go,” Randolph said. “We didn’t play the basketball we normally play. We made bad decisions at points in the game. A lot of turnovers. We just have to be smart and hit shots.”
After the way 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 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 3s, but he’s the guy that can make 3s. And make multiple 3s 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.
“We started the game great defensively and we built off of that,” Durant said. “Offensively I think we played a little slow, but we picked it up in that second quarter.”
NOTES: With Memphis G 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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