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Thunder slashed by Grizzlies 116-107

With Shai Gilgeous-Alexander out for the foreseeable future (plantar fasciitis,) alongside Darius Bazley’s (shoulder), the Thunder failed to their alleviate their absences, slipping to the Grizzlies 116-107 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. Oklahoma City sulked to 19-25 with the loss, now dropping below not just the New Orleans Pelicans (18-25), but also the Sacramento Kings who despite matching a 19-25 record, possess the series tie-breaker — as of now the Thunder sit 13th in the West. Grizzlies Head Coach Taylor Jenkins must be fond of his units recent efforts, now budding on a three-game win streak, and a positive record at 21-20, good for 8th in the West.

Oklahoma City struggled to produce a sizable offense out the gate shooting 4-of-12 for 9 points, but their lockdown defense on Memphis (4-of-10 FG) kept them up one four minutes in. Grizzlies wings Graysen Allen and Dillion Brooks took a close to the cold streak — posting ten points unanswered for an 18-9 lead. The Thunder ran right back, almost counteracting runs with nine straight points, charging the offense behind Moses Brown’s insertion to the lineup. Oklahoma City nearly reclaimed their lead knotted at 21-21, but Memphis managed to cap the period off on a 5-0 run entering the second up 26-21. The Thunder did a solid job distributing the basketball, assisting on 6-of-9 quarter shots, but a dreary 2-of-10 outing from the perimeter coupled with putting the Grizzlies to the line (7-of-9 FT) put pressure on their back.

The Thunder’s second unit dug right into the teeth of the Grizz, clawing out a lead just three minutes in. Memphis Head Coach Taylor Jenkins stood baffled at the 7 minute, 43 second mark, signaling a timeout as Moses Brown overpowered Jonas Valanciunas under the rim for an and-one standing jam. Jenkins’ adjustments clotted Brown’s reign of terror, but it only opened the door for other Thunder options. Oklahoma City never let up their advantage in the half’s closure, mounting a lead as large as 8 before sliding to 6 at 53-47.

Moses Brown mounted a double-double by halftime, practically running bully-ball in the pick-and-roll. Al Horford posted 11 points, 6 rebounds in his spurt, out-assisting the entire Grizzlies squad 6-5 in the half.

The Thunder’s pass-first play set the table for their lead assisting on 65.2% of field goals (15-of-23) bagging a paltry 5 turnovers.

Aleksej Pokusevski punched his ticket to SportsCenter in the third quarter’s onset, gloving a mid-air pass like a baseball before breaking away into transition — sprawling out a Jumpman-esque dunk a step in from the free-throw line. Poku’s dunk not only warranted an immediate timeout — but it also set the stage for an 8-0 run to start the half. Oklahoma City’s magic ran out as the Grizzlies ball-security kept the pressure on the Thunder en route to a 18-2 run, effectively prying the lead away. The later segment continued to host a paradigm shift as the Grizz closed off a 31-12 run that saw them shoot an unprecedented 65% (15-of-23) while Oklahoma City couldn’t buy a bucket shooting 19% (3-of-16) in that span. Despite this, the Thunder walked away from the period pretty easy, only down 82-73.

The Thunder had a collection of runs in the final period, including a 5-0 run orchestrated solely through Kenrich Williams, but none of them amassed enough as the Grizzlies continued to tack on baskets. 

Memphis took home the victory ousting Oklahoma City 37 percent to 29 percent in the three-point column raking in one more make on five less attempts (35-to-30.) The Grizzlies’ biggest highlight on this game however came right around the basket as their 10-man rotation combined for 70 points in the paint on 53.9 percent shooting.

Dillion Brooks led the Grizzlies with 25 points (8-of-13 FG) while Graysen Allen trailed not to far behind with 20 points (8-of-14 FG).

Ja Morant finished his night with his fourth-lowest scoring output of the year hoisting 11 points on 5-of-14 shooting. The sophomore couldn’t find any connection with the basket early, netted his first two points with just 1 minute, 55 seconds to go in the second quarter — largely in part to Lu Dort.

For Mark Daigneault’s crew, despite falling short of the prize, this game was jammed with promising moments. The Thunder posted 26 assists on 43 made field goals (60.4% assisted) having all but two members chipping in on the category. Comparatively to Memphis, Oklahoma City also showed prowess around the rim with 58 points in the paint at a 53.7 percent rate — just 0.2 off of the Grizzlies mark down low.

Moses Brown came off the bench in Al Horford’s return to the lineup, but in Daigneault’s own word, it was hard to take him off.

“I thought Mo played well enough tonight that it was worth extending him tonight,” Daigneault said.

Brown flashed his G-League numbers Wednesday, tallying a double-double in his first 14 minutes — good for the third fastest time to amass the accolade in franchise history. Brown saw a slight drawback in production in the second-half, but regardless, he was the Thunder’s best player with 19 points (7-of-9 FG), 12 rebounds, 2 steals, and 3 blocks over 31 minutes.

Aleksej Pokusevki boasted 13 points (5-of-8 FG), 3 rebounds, and 5 assists in his starting appearance dazzling the (extremely limited) crowd with star-studded moves. Pokusevski didn’t shy away from the big play, his third-quarter Jordan dunk only compiled with his numerous behind-the-back pass attempts and even a few pullup jumpers.

Al Horford provided a bit of everything in his long-awaited return, dialing up 13 points (6-of-11 FG), 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. Horford’s best time on the floor came alongside Moses Brown, as Horford sat at the perimeter allowing for Brown to operate, while also making himself a threat from distance — his 1-of-5 showing testifies otherwise.

Lu Dort and Theo Maledon remained ice-cold for the majority of the night, yet they still managed to tally 14 and 10 points respectively. Kenrich Williams and Ty Jerome sparked the second unit alongside Brown with 11 points a piece.

The Oklahoma City Thunder (19-25) will stake a two-day break, facing the Boston Celtics (21-23) on Saturday. However, with Thursday marking the league’s trade deadline, don’t be assured all 15 members will remain with the franchise.

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