Who: Memphis Grizzlies vs Oklahoma City Thunder
When: Saturday, May 11, 4:00 PM CST
Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
Series Standing: Tied 1-1
Media: ESPN, 92.9 FM, 680 AM
Forums: 3 Shades of Blue, Grizzlies Message Board
Opposing Views: Daily Thunder
Memphis refused to falter to the opposition after a deflating two point loss in Game One. Coming out victorious in Game Two, the Grizzlies managed to take one on the road to steal home court advantage away from the Thunder. The saying goes that role players tend to play better at home, so that has to be an encouraging sign for the Grizzlies as the series heads to the Forum. While Quincy Pondexter has been okay, the Grizz have not gotten much on either end of the floor out of anybody not named Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, or Tony Allen. Game Two was the paradigm of a grind game. A 12 year old kid asking out his childhood crush is likely to be more composed than I was on Tuesday night; especially after that agonizing blow that Kevin Durant delivered to Grizz nation with his late game acts of villainy in the Game One. While it is a nice plus for the team to return to Memphis with a game under its belt, that first game dagger is still resonating with Randolph and Tayshaun Prince, who lamented the series standing after Game Two. Quoted from May 8th’s Daily Dime lead complements of TrueHoop’s Kevin Arnovitz, “as Randolph prepared to head to the showers, he muttered, ‘2-0,’ to Prince, then repeated it… Randolph and Prince shook their heads.” Taking care of business at the Grindhouse would set the Grizzlies up 3-1 headed back to Oklahoma City, but let’s take this one game at a time.
Oklahoma City will be sure to come out of the gates with a fire today in attempt to avoid allowing the Grizzlies to pick up steam with their home crowd behind them. The Thunder have a lot riding on Durant’s shoulders with Westbrook down, but when push came to shove they just could not get him going in the fourth quarter of Game Two. Durant had himself a crazy high-usage game, however, as he put up 36 points, 9 assists, 5 turnovers, and shot 12 free throws. What will be interesting to see going forward is how often the Thunder opt to go with the small ball lineups. In Game Two, all four of Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, and Hasheem Thabeet saw significant minutes, which certainly falls in the Grizzlies’ favor. After slaughtering the Grizzlies’ defense in Game One, Kevin Martin shot a meager 2-11 from the field in the second go-around, and should not be expected to continue to stay cold for long.
For individual matchup analyses, check out the Series Post
– Mike Conley’s a man’s man, whatever that means: 26 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists and only 2 turnovers in Game Two. In the first game, he had key turnover during a crucial possession as he was stripped by Derek Fisher, but this time around he played it out with a vengeance in the final period. Conley posted 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists in the 4th quarter alone. The evolution of Mike Conley has been a story to behold from his selection as the 19 year old project point guard that allegedly rode Greg Oden’s coattails into the league, to where we are today. He arguably played Chris Paul to a standstill in round one, and is now making his presence felt in round two. His jumper still has not been as money as you would like in these playoffs, but he is finding ways to have an impact by varying his game between spot up opportunities, working the pick and roll, and getting into the paint. Being guarded by the aging Derek Fisher (more on him later) and the still-kind-of-raw Reggie Jackson, Conley should be in attack mode early and often in Game Three.
– Speaking of guard play, how about the Grindfather? Lionel Hollins told us that Tony Allen would not see time guarding Durant, because of the length disparity. While “we don’t bluff,” Lionel was left little choice but to give it a shot, as it paid off dividends in the 4th. Allen was not alone in the effort, but played a major role in keeping Durant quiet to the tune of only 3 points in the last 7 minutes of the contest. Add that with Allen’s 4 steals in the quarter (5 for the game), and you’ve got the recipe for Grit n’ Grind. And just in case you missed it, here’s the video of his classic pulling the chair out from under KD in the final minute. Just a crafty play.
– The team may go as Conley goes, but the bigs will always be the focal point of the Grizzlies’ gameplan. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph may have combined for only 13 rebounds on the night, but they took care of business offensively as they combined for 39 points on 56% shooting. Gasol has been especially efficient on the offensive end, having gone 8-14 and 8-13 respectively from the field in the first two games of this series. His presence as an inside out nightmare has proved to be a serious threat to the Thunder’s preference to play small. As for Zbo, to say the Thunder have been determined to stick him tight would be a grand understatement, but he is still managing 16.5 points through the first two at just a shade under 50%. The two have also done a solid job thus far of keeping Serge Ibaka’s impact off the scoreboard.
– Not everything is coming up roses for the blue bears, though. There was a point at which I was convinced that they were intent on giving the last game away, as they continually seemed to get in their own way by shooting themselves in the foot with missed opportunities. Errant passing on the break was a total buzzkill, as the Grizzlies squandered away numerous momentum-building opportunities as a result. Even worse is the abysmal display of free throw shooting. In a tight series like this one, where it may all come down to a handful of possessions, you simply cannot afford to throw away the uncontested looks from the stripe. While their 71.9% effectiveness at the line in Game 2 was a nice improvement over the downright disturbing 58.3% they posted in Game One, it pales in comparison to the Thunder’s flirting with 90% in each game. Hopefully the comfort of home court will help the guys out in the composure department for the next two games.
– Speaking of home cookin’, I alluded to its potential effect on role players stepping up, earlier, which is what they absolutely need to do if the Grizzlies are going to win this series. Tayshaun Prince, for example is a combined 6-19 shooting in the series so far, which actually sounds a lot better than his jumper has looked. In the Clippers series, he was missing in action in the first few games before coming to life and dropping 15 in Game Four at the Forum. Jerryd Bayless has hit some shots, but his lack of height has left him a liability against the likes of Kevin Martin on the defensive end. Quincy Pondexter played well in Game One on the whole, but caught a lot of heat for the botched free throws in, which seems to have rattled him a bit. The backup bigs have been non-existent outside of an Ed Davis dunk, and the backup point guards are making a case for Hollins to go all Mark Jackson/Tom Thibodeau and dangle Conley out there for all 48 (disclaimer: I am absolutely not advocating this). On the flip side, the Thunder have enjoyed a Matt Barnes-esque contribution from Fisher, who is 6-8 from the perimeter on the series, as the lead beneficiary of the Grizzlies over-committing to Durant on the pick and roll, which has left the Thunder shooters in Candyland out in the corner. Simply put, the Grizzlies’ role players are going to have to get out there and do a better job of neutralizing the Thunder guys by making some plays of their own.
Some Final Musings:
– With his 10 rebounds in Game Two, Mike Conley reached double figures on the boards for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
– The clank factor has not been exclusive to the Grizzlies’ trips to the charity stripe. I’ve mentioned role players stepping up about 13 times it seems in this post already, and if they can sink some of the open looks that Conley and Gasol have afforded them it would go a long way.
– Also speaking of, the passing that Conley and Gasol have exhibited has been brilliant.
– Lastly, I couldn’t find a clip of it, but how about the possession that the Grizz hauled in three straight offensive boards leading to a Pondexter jumper? Talk about hustle.