The Oklahoma City Thunder had Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The Memphis Grizzlies had Jamaal Franklin and Nick Calathes.
In what basketball universe is this humane, never mind fair?
The Thunder returned to FedExForum on Wednesday, Dec. 11, and I would say it’s a date that will live in infamy, but in this season there are too many of those. This was, at some level, just another day ending in a y, another game ending in an L.
Historians will note OKC won, 116-100. And that Westbrook scored 27 points and Durant 18 – which is 11 below his average, believe it or not. Also for the official record: The Grizzlies trailed by as many as 24 points, were never closer than 14 in the fourth quarter and their record dipped back under .500, at 10-11.
But what I found notable was this: When guard Derek Fisher, who just turned 56, entered the game I found myself wishing he played for the Grizzlies. Because at this stage, the local basketball franchise can’t have too many healthy players who know how to play, who know a thing or two about winning.
Now in basketball karma perhaps this was, for a night, payback. When the Grizzlies defeated the Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals last season they were without Westbrook. It’s a fair comparison to say that’s about as rough for them as life for the Grizzlies is now without All-Star center Marc Gasol.
You don’t have to take my word for it, because here was Durant after the game talking about the Grizzlies not having Gasol or Grindfather Tony Allen.
“That changes their whole team,” Durant said. “Marc Gasol is a guy that can pass from the high post, score in the low post, and shoot that jump shot. You have to put this thing in perspective … if Gasol was there it would really be different.”
Yes, we know. First-year Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger knows. I suspect even Lionel Hollins knows, though he could sit fireside and spin tales about the Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph injuries, too.
Meantime, Thunder coach Scott Brooks, when talking about last season’s playoff series, seemed conflicted. He made a point of mentioning they didn’t have Westbrook.
“We lost a major piece last year, ” he said.
But he also said the Grizzlies “beat us fair and square.” And when asked directly if the result could have been different with Westbrook, he wouldn’t take the bait: “That’s a hypothetical, I wouldn’t even go there.”
Call Brooks a flip-flopper, if you want. But this is the nature of playing on when your team is compromised. You don’t want to give in to excuse-making, but if the excuse holds more fact than fiction it’s at least some percentage of a reasonable explanation.
None of which means the Grizzlies, even with Gasol, would have won Wednesday night. Maybe yes. More likely, no. But no Gasol and no Tony Allen, who missed his fourth-straight game with a sore hip? Plus no Ed Davis (ankle) and then Quincy Pondexter’s done for the season?
They didn’t stand a chance. It’s enough to make you wonder if there is something in the Memphis air causing all this medical mayhem.
“One of those bugs going around the city, I don’t know what it is,” Pondexter said.
It’s brutal, is what it is. Joerger only had nine players available against the Thunder. That’s no way to play a team that’s now 17-4 and might be the favorite to win the Western Conference.
Even the day before, in practice, Joerger had to press assistant coach Shawn Respert into five-on-five duty.
“His team won one of the shooting competitions,” Joerger said.
And that and nine bucks will get you a beer at a Grizzlies game – a beer that you can cry in.
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.