By By Jeff Latzke, AP Sports Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY —
Kevin Durant scored 27 points, Russell Westbrook added 21 points and nine assists and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat Memphis 106-89 Thursday night in the Grizzlies’ first game since trading away leading-scorer Rudy Gay.
Memphis struggled mightily in the first half and trailed by 26 in the third quarter before a mini-implosion by the Thunder that featured Westbrook getting benched after a dust-up with his teammates.
It still didn’t provide a big enough opening for the Grizzlies, who were playing short-handed while waiting for trade acquisitions Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye and Ed Davis to arrive and pass physicals.
Jerryd Bayless led Memphis with 23 points. Zach Randolph missed his first 10 shots and wound up with nine points and 19 rebounds.
The Grizzlies were already short on numbers after dealing away reserves Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington and Josh Selby for Jon Leuer about a week earlier and with Quincy Pondexter out with a sprained ligament in his left knee.
That left just nine healthy players for Memphis, and Leuer didn’t get into the game until it was out of hand in the final 5 minutes.
Just when Oklahoma City seemed to be firmly in control, Westbrook started sniping with his teammates after a possession when he posted up along the left side of the lane and eventually got called for a turnover when Bayless stuck with him on defense for 5 seconds. Westbrook then spiked the ball twice while gesturing toward Thabo Sefolosha and Durant that they needed to get open better.
He then hollered toward coach Scott Brooks on the bench.
Memphis followed his outburst with 10 straight points to make it a game again — with Westbrook getting an early hook during the stretch and heading down the tunnel to the locker room.
Brooks finally put him back in the game to start the fourth quarter, after Memphis had pulled to 77-67 in the final minute of the third quarter. Westbrook hit a pull-up jumper and set up Kevin Martin for a 3-pointer in transition on consecutive possessions to bump the lead back up to 86-69 with 9:32 remaining.
That all but ended the Grizzlies’ comeback bid.
Memphis had been one of only three visiting teams to win at the Chesapeake Energy Arena this season, but that was before the two trades aimed at avoiding the luxury tax.
From the start, the depleted Grizzlies were no match for the Thunder at full strength.
Returning home for the first time after a six-game road trip, Oklahoma City connected on its first nine shots to move ahead and then tacked onto the lead after the streak stopped.
Martin’s 3-pointer from the left wing pushed the advantage into double digits for the first time at 27-16 with 2:41 left in the first quarter.
Nick Collison had a two-handed slam and Durant converted a three-point play after being fouled on a right-handed jam during a string of nine straight Oklahoma City points early in the second quarter, and the lead ballooned to 24 by halftime. Memphis shot just 26 percent while matching its season-low with 34 first-half points while the Thunder made 61 percent and scored 58 points against what has been the league’s stingiest defense.