The Thunder & Grizzlies have matched up twice in the previous three years of the NBA playoffs. Both teams look different now than any of the previous match ups, however there are 9 players who have played in both series & will look to get playing time this year as well: Kevin Durant, Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison for OKC; Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, and Mike Conley for the Grizzlies.
While different key players have been missing at various times throughout the series (and even regular season match ups) the major rotation players are similar and remain unchanged. The most obvious missing name is Russell Westbrook for the Thunder. However, if there is any encouragement, in 2011 the Grizzlies (less Rudy Gay) took the Thunder to 7 games before losing the series while James Harden was coming off the bench. This year there is no Rudy Gay nor James Harden for either team, and the Grizzlies won 4-1 last year without Russell Westbrook. Does Russ make a difference? Absolutely. Does he make a 3 game difference?
Let’s take a historical look at the stats of Russell Westbrook vs the Grizzlies
Outcome in the regular season: 2-1 Grizzlies, both wins Thunder < 100pts
Outcome in the playoffs: 4-1 Grizzlies, none played with Westbrook
*Westbrook only played in 2 of the Thunder’s games vs Memphis. Both wins.
Outcome in the regular season: 3-1 Thunder, 2 of the 3 Thunder wins the PACE was < 90
Outcome in the playoffs: TBD
The Thunder, some say, are a better team with Westbrook. I don’t think they are, but let’s just agree for sake of argument. Last season with him playing against the Grizzlies, they lost 2 of 3 with him, but then 4 of 5 in the playoffs without him. This season, the Grizzlies are 1-1 against the Thunder without Westbrook playing. They are 0-2 with him playing, including a ridiculously high 155 offensive rating.
What does that mean for the Grizzlies this series? It’s a mixed bag. Usually against the Grizzlies, when Westbrook takes more shots than Durant the game has not ended well for the Thunder. The exception to that, however, is this season’s two games. Obviously there were circumstances that altered those games for the Grizzlies with injuries, but there really is no conclusive evidence. Historically, the Grizzlies have fared pretty well against the Thunder, hanging their hat on shutting down one of the top 5 offenses in the league. However, in the 3 losses to the Thunder this season, the Grizzlies played pitiful defense with DRtg’s 110+. The key to the Grizzlies winning will be keeping one of the 2 headed monsters from hurting you. Since the Grizzlies have been able to beat the Thunder with Kevin Durant, my focus is on “turning off the water” on Westbrook.
The key to stopping Westbrook is on the perimeter. The Grizzlies have kept Westbrook from shooting three point shots at an efficient rate (.333+), in years past. And when they’ve done so, the Grizzlies have taken the season or playoff series. I realize it is an arbitrary argument, and there are many other factors that go into the game, however, stopping Westbrook on the perimeter should be the focus of Conley, Lee and Tony Allen.
If the Grizzlies can keep Westbrook from shooting efficiently on the perimeter (which they have done a pathetic job of doing all season against anyone), then the Grizzlies should end up taking the series.
My prediction: Grizzlies take game 1, then win it in 6.
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I could have written about another 2,000 words on Westbrook & the Grizzlies but I didn't have time & I try not to waste your time.
— Zach Thomas (@zacharytthomas) April 18, 2014