Last week we asked whether or not we’d be spending this edition of the Friday Morning Five discussing the first round playoff matchup or an upcoming drawing of ping pong balls. Four out of five panelists predicted the former, and luckily for us, were correct. Now it’s time to embark on the real grind: another playoff series against Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder — a rubber match of sorts, as the third in the past four years. This week the 3 Shades of Blue team discussed pace, matchups, and of course, series predictions. We were so amped for the upcoming series that today’s edition turned into a 6-on-5! Check it out and be sure to sound off with your thoughts below!
1. The Thunder run a pace of 97.9 possessions per game, which is in the top third of the league. The Grizzles are the dead slowest team at 92.3. Which side will give?
Chip Crain: I think this is the real question in the series. If the Grizzlies can force the Thunder to “play in the mud” then the Grizzlies have a real chance at upsetting the Thunder. If not the series won’t be very long. This season the pace was 94.60 against the Thunder but you can throw that out in the playoffs where the game slows down.
Zach Thomas: Since the Grizzlies are healthy & have Marc Gasol back, I am going to give the edge to Grizzlies. Interestingly enough, in the regular season, the road games at OKC averaged 91.4 PACE while the games in the Grindhouse averaged 97.79. The other team imposed its pace on the road.
Jonathan May: Historically, the Grizzlies force faster teams to play at their pace. I expect that to be the case, though they won’t slow OKC all the way down.
Antonia Bufalino: Grizzlies will drag the Thunder down into the mud. We have seen to play best against fast-paced teams and struggle with the slower ones. So the keys of the game is to keep it slow, control the pace. If we do that, the Thunder will find it very difficult to get into a consistent offensive rhythm.
Carl Chaplin: It will be hard to slow down the Thundering herd, so the Grizzlies defense will have to be keeping strays (break-outs) to a minimum and to block-off the stampede that Durant and Westbrook will want to cause. In the end the Grizzlies defense and inside game will keep the Thunder in check, to keep the pace lower than OKC usually plays.
Steve Danziger: This could very well be the deciding factor of the series, as the Grizzlies must do whatever they can to protect their halfcourt and keep Russell Westbrook out of transition. I think they’ll manage to effectively slow it down and dictate the terms of speed.
2. Who guards Russell Westbrook?
Chip: The Grizzlies will likely start with Courtney Lee but I expect Tony Allen to get a lot of playing time against Westbrook as well. Conley needs to be protected somewhat on defense so his offense can shine. The Grizzlies offense functioned well against OKC in the last game but still needs to be more efficient right from the start. Hopefully this late run will carry into the playoffs.
Zach: Mike Conley, Courtney Lee, Tony Allen. I think you game plan for each of them and switch up guys on him so he can never get comfortable.
Jonathan: Mostly Conley, plus some CLee and TA.
Antonia: Mike Conley and Tony Allen should be switched on and off Russell with Tony still getting minutes on Kevin Durant as well- especially in the fourth quarter.
Carl: Conley and Allen with an occasional Lee or Calathes on him.
Steve: Tony Allen, whenever he’s on the floor. We need to keep Conley fresh on offense.
3. How deep does the rotation go against OKC, and who makes the cut?
Chip: The starting five plus Calthes, Allen, Miller and Koufas. Davis may see some time but Steven Adams is the main big man off the bench for OKC and the Grizzlies will likely counter with the taller and bigger Koufas. James Johnson is a dark horse to get minutes as well to slow down Durant.
Zach: For this round, I think you have to use Tony, Calathes, Kosta, Mike off the bench. In limited roles bring in JJ & Davis (limited = <6 minutes). JJ & Davis got a lot of run though during the regular season games. I think Kosta is a massive advantage against Steven Adams off the bench. I like him over Davis in this series.
Jonathan: Conley, Lee, Prince, ZBo, Marc, Kosta, Miller, Calathes, TA + spot minutes for JJ & Ed depending on game flow.
Antonia: Considering Joerger seems to still not be fully concrete with the rotations, it’s hard to say; however, I don’t think we will be seeing much(or any) of Johnson or Leuer unless for a select matchup or garbage time.
Carl: 9 deep or deeper. Depending on how the game is going, I think we could see Davis to counter their athletic bigs and Johnson to guard KD some. Koufos, Calathes, Allen and Miller will definitely play. I look for Johnson and Prince to be on KD. I think that Allen is too small to card Durant efficiently, although he did a good job against Lebron.
Steve: I think that for as much of the rotation shortening talk that Joerger did, he caves and goes 10 for the series, with Calathes/Allen/Miller/Davis/Koufos coming off the bench. Oklahoma City may run some small lineups out there, but don’t let them fool you, they’re an incredibly big and physical team. Marc and Zach will need their rest, and while Kosta Koufos matches up well with their bench bigs, Ed Davis projects as the best deterrent to Serge’s jump shot and athleticism.
4. Who will lead the Grizzlies in scoring in the first round?
Chip: Zach Randolph. The team has ridden his broad shoulders all season and his ability to get to the line against the overplaying of Ibaka could be a major factor in the series. Conley will need to shoot a higher percentage to keep the Thunder out of the paint so Gasol and Randolph can operate cleanly as well.
Zach: Zach Randolph. He has been tearing it up lately. I can’t see OKC stopping him consistently. I say he averages 18ppg in the series. Conley a close second at 16.5ppg.
Jonathan: Going to shy away from my instinct to say Randolph and go with Conley.
Antonia: If OKC puts Perkins against Zbo, then Zbo might lead the whole league in scoring.
Carl: Mike Conley or maybe Zach, depending how much they overplay to stop ZBo.
Steve: Zbo. In my opinion this series has Zach written all over it, especially given the way he’s played of late.
5. How many games will it take to decide the series, and who comes out on top?
Chip: I think this series will go 7 games but I can’t rule out OKC in 5. Memphis has been red hot at home lately having won 14 straight games and need to continue that streak to have a chance in the series. Memphis is as healthy as they have been all season as well. However, when both teams were at full strength in late February OKC had no trouble handling the Grizzlies. I want Memphis to win of course but they seem to be just a bit too undermanned against Durant and Westbrook.
Zach: I’ve been sticking with my stat trends ever since the AllStar break and with 2 exceptions (@Jazz & @Lakers) they haven’t let me down. Why change now? I say it goes like this: Grizz take games 1 (on 2 day’s rest), 3 (on 2 days rest), 4 (on 1 day’s rest at home), 6 (on 1 day’s rest at home). Thunder take games 2 (on 1 day’s rest on the road) & 5 (on 2 day’s rest on the road). Grizzlies in 6. Since Gasol’s return, Grizzlies are 2-0 on the road on 2 day’s rest, and 5-9 on 1 day’s rest on the road. At home, over the same time, Grizzlies are 7-1 on 1 day’s rest and 3-1 on 2 day’s rest.
Jonathan: What’s the point of being a homer writing for a fan-oriented blog if you can’t pick the Grizzlies in 6?
Antonia: 4-2 with the Grizzlies upsetting the Thunder. Win one on the road, come back and defend the Grindhouse, and say hello to the second round.
Carl: 6 games and the Grizzlies steal one game at OKC and win all their home games. Call me a homie.
Steve: All seven games, Grizzlies break the hearts of Thunder fans in their own building, even if Tennesseans aren’t allowed in. A man can dream, can’t he?
Have any questions for the 3 Shades of Blue staff to chew on? Send them our way via the comment section, calling into 3SOB Radio on Sports56 every Saturday morning, smoke signals, or reaching out to us on Twitter!