With Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony out for the second straight game, both with a sprained ankle, it was a safe assumption that the Thunder would be disconnected on both ends of the floor, just like they were against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Paul George had something to say about that and surprisingly, so did Alex Abrines, who seems increasingly more confident following the trade deadline. The two combined for 49 points, leading the Thunder to a 110-92 victory over a depleted Memphis Grizzlies team.
The Thunder started the contest very slowly. Down 6-0 to Memphis and it appeared like the Thunder would drop another game without their leader. Immediately following the slow start, George caught on fire offensively scoring all nine of OKC’s first points en route to a 16-point opening quarter.
George has scored 15 or more points in the first quarter four times this season and three times since Jan. 23.
Abrines has been playing extremely timid since the new year. With the swirling rumors of trade scenarios featuring him, that’s somewhat understandable because he didn’t know when his last time suiting up in a Thunder uniform would be. Well, almost like clockwork Abrines ramped up his game, both offensively and defensively following last week’s trade deadline.
While George lit the Grizzlies up offensively in that opening quarter, Abrines stood idly by, waiting for his moment, while giving a satisfactory defensive effort. He scored a modest six points in the first 12 minutes, then elevated his game in the second, scoring 10 in the second and went into halftime with 16.
It wasn’t so surprising to watch Abrines score the ball like he did but his confidence is what told the story about this game and it permeated through everyone that played on Sunday night. He’s never been one to shy away from shooting, but he’s often appeared nervous while dribbling the ball or doing anything more than catching and shooting. He wasn’t on Sunday. He also never seems too eager to play one-on-one defense but he stepped up to the plate fearlessly on Sunday as well.
The Thunder, as a team, looked confident as if Westbrook and Anthony were playing. And granted, they played against an (18-26) Grizzlies team but they were coming off a loss to a Lakers team that isn’t much better.
Raymond Felton stepped up in place of Westbrook and scored 14 points, while Patrick Patterson scored 14 points in Carmelo’s place. Jerami Grant played assertive basketball and finished at the rim strong on every attempt, resulting in 10 attempted free throws and 14 points in the contest.
The Thunder are optimistic for Westbrook and Anthony’s return on Tuesday against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who they manhandled a couple weeks ago. With this win against the Grizzlies, they improve to (32-25) on the season and reclaim the fifth spot in the Western Conference.