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Grizzlies home-opener thrill deflated by Thunder

  • Written by Kelley Evans
  • Published in Sports
‘We can do better’

Beale Street was packed. Parking lots were filled. Bars were hopping. The “Grind House” was back in business and the Memphis Grizzlies were ready to put in work.

 New Grizz guard/forward Quincy Pondexter demonstrates the will to score as teammate Zach Randolph battles Oklahoma City’s Nick Collison. (Photos by Warren Roseborough)
 Memphis guard Josh Selby cuts off the Thunder’s Kevin Durant, forcing him to pass rather than shoot, which usually is a good move. Durant was the game’s high scorer with 32 points.
 The Grizz were back at “work” in the FedExForum and an arena full of fans came ready for “duty.”
 Zach Randolph hits a three-pointer over Nick Collison of the OKC Thunder to bring the Grizzlies within one point late in the game.

After a lengthy lockout that snatched away a good bit of the season, the Grizzlies’ home opener on Wednesday (Dec. 28) was the buzz of the day. A sellout crowed jammed the FedExForum, and despite a fight-to-the-end commitment, Memphis (0-2) fell 98 to 95 to the buzz killers otherwise known as the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Grizz turned in the now expected grit-and-grind performance against the team many fans have dubbed a rival. And while losing stings, even more so to a rival, center Marc Gasol emerged from the home opener with calculated optimism.

“When we can play with that effort, there’s no doubt in my mind that we can do better,” said Gasol.

The Thunder – players and head coach – anticipated a fight out of Gasol and power forward Zach Randolph.

“Those two bigs are a handful, not only for us, but for the entire league,” said Thunder head coach Scott Brooks. “They’re All-Star type players.”

Randolph finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds, one of three Grizz players in double figures. Rudy Gay followed with 19 points and 12 rebounds and Gasol pitched in 16 points and 12 rebounds.

The game got physical down in the paint and Randolph saw it coming. “We’ve got to expect that and move around to get good points,” he said.

Grizz Head Coach Lionel Hollins was disappointed with the loss but pleased that the team is getting better.

“We didn’t rebound early on, and then they went really small,” said Hollins. “Then we started attacking and got back in the game.”

Thunder superstar Kevin Durant led all scorers with 32 points, James Harden adding 20 to help OKC get out of town with the win.

“They match up with us well,” said Durant. “Rudy Gay is coming off of shoulder surgery and playing well. Of course there’s Zach (Randolph) and the big fellow Marc (Gasol). I was hoping he (Gasol) didn’t sign back with them. He signed back and they have a good team.  It’s going to be a battle every time we play team, but it’s going to be fun.”

In the first minute of the game, Grizz starting point guard Mike Conley landed on his left ankle and left with a sprain. New acquisition Jeremy Pargo stepped up with an impressive performance, contributing 15 points and seven assists.

“I saw great quickness (from Pargo),” Hollins said. “That’s what we were talking about in terms of a backup point guard, someone who could come in and change the game a little bit.”

Josh Selby, another Grizz point guard, also did a nice job with his minutes, said Hollins.

After losing (95-82) to the San Antonio Spurs on Monday due to poor offensive plays and lackadaisical defense, the Grizzlies knew they had to regroup and make adjustments.

Against the Thunder, Memphis couldn’t quite pull through down the stretch. OKC’s three-pointers (10 on the night) exploited a lapse in the difference.

Although Memphis’ start was rough, the Grizz was there at the end, although there seemed to be a lack of mental toughness and tenacity in the final seconds.  

Grizz guard O.J. Mayo pointed toward a communication problem.

“Congrats to them (Thunder),” Mayo said. “They played well. They played a little better in stretches. It’s definitely a step forward from game one. We just have to get better. We just have to communicate,” he said.

“They have some guys that really like to shoot the three and we just have to run them off the three-point line to be in our favor. We just have to stay aggressive on both ends of the floor.  Tonight it definitely cost us down the stretch, but it’s an area we can improve in and will improve in.”

Grizz Notes:

The Grizzlies will face the Houston Rockets on Friday (Dec. 30) at the FedEx Forum.

The Grizzlies acquired guard/forward Quincy Pondexter from the New Orleans Hornets in exchange for guard Greivis Vasquez.

Forward Dante Cunningham was signed after the Charlotte Bobcats declined to match Memphis’ offer sheet for the restricted free agent.

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