Who: Memphis Grizzlies vs Oklahoma City Thunder
When: Wednesday, May 15, 8:30 PM CST
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
Series Standing: Memphis Leads 3-1
Media: TNT, 92.9 FM, 680 AM
Forums: 3 Shades of Blue, Grizzlies Message Board
Opposing Views: Daily Thunder
Memphis survived yet another grinder this round, as all four games this series have been decided in the final minutes. After dropping a Game 1 heartbreaker, the Grizzlies picked up the pieces and got their late-game act together. I hate to rehash his name around here for fear of a polarizing effect, but the question had lingered whether the Grizzlies could execute late in games without Rudy Gay. Can we say it has been answered, yet? Under the steadying influence of Mike Conley, everyone on the court has stepped up to the call to help carry their end of the load in crunch time. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph have each gotten key buckets, and boy oh boy Tony Allen’s defense late in games has been paramount. The Grizzlies have pole position looking towards the Western Conference Finals, as they’ve got 3 chances to get one more win against Oklahoma City. A win tonight could put this series in the books affording the starters some valuable rest, while the Spurs and Warriors still duke it out across the bracket. Let’s not get carried away though, it will not be easy. As I alluded to earlier, this series has been a lot closer than the 3-1 standing indicates. The Grizz simply cannot afford to lay another egg in the first half; especially on the road.
Oklahoma City must be feeling a lot like Memphis did at the end of Game 1, after leaving a very winnable game on the table in Memphis. The Thunder jumped out to an early and imposing 17 point lead in the first half of Monday night’s game, looking like a darn good bet to even the series heading back to their hometown. They were playing the game their way. The pace was moving, shots were falling, Serge Ibaka was involved on offense, Kevin Martin caught his defender ball-watching, and the Thunder had put 56 points on the scoreboard by the break. Oh yeah, and that Kevin Durant fellow continued to show us that he is pretty good. But as we saw, the team could not sustain the run, and the Grizzlies ran away with Game 4. Was fatigue their downfall? No one knows for sure, but what I do know is that a desperate team with its back against the wall is a dangerous opponent.
For individual matchup analyses, check out the Series Post
– What gets lost in the bottom line of the box score is just how porous the Grizzlies defense was in the first half. While Oklahoma City came away from that game empty, they are not devoid of good things to draw from. If you’re Scott Brooks, you have a lot of things that happened over the two games at the Grindhouse to be encouraged about. In the first half, Kevin Durant was making everything he put up, and consequently the Grizzlies over-extended on helping him. As a result a lot of Grizzly defenders were caught well out of position, which allowed OKC to poke holes in the Grizzlies usually impenetrable defense with the likes of Kevin Martin, Reggie Jackson, and Serge Ibaka. It was backdoor cuts and 18 footers galore. If Brooks can harness this again with some video sessions, that spells trouble for the good guys.
– Somewhere atop my dream bucket list is to be a fly on the wall during a Lionel Hollins halftime address. The third quarter has been quite a friend of the Grizzlies of late, and Monday’s game was no different. The Grizzlies mounted a rock solid 28-20 output in the period to equalize the game heading into the fourth quarter, which was huge given that they had gone into the half with an eight point deficit. Be it due to in-game adjustments, motivational techniques, the opposition wearing down from the Grizzlies’ physical play, or a combination of all of the above, the Grizz have succeeded in the latter half of games. The game really was a tale of two halves (and an overtime). Kevin Durant was on lock down late in the game, especially illustrated by his 0-5 shooting in the overtime period. Much of which can be attributed to…
– Tony Allen. Fans have been clamoring for Hollins to put Allen on Durant for the game, but let’s face it… saving his defensive expertise for the final period has worked to this point. The combination of 40+ minutes wearing on KD and Allen’s playing keep-away has kept the explosive scorer out of his comfort zones and led to some unfavorable offensive possessions forced by the hands of his supporting cast. Then of course, there was the huge steal (his third of the night) with 22 ticks left on the clock, which was the typical “antennas up” play that we have come to love from the Grindfather, in the biggest of moments.
– What more can be said about the play of Mike Conley? He has seized the helm of the Grizzlies’ offense and done so without looking back. 24 points and 4 steals illustrate what was another “answer the call” performance out of him. He has currently elevated his play to the tune of averaging 18.1 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.6 rebounds through the course of the playoffs. All the while, with his jump shot having escaped him up until arguably the last game. I can sit here and talk about Conley all day, and the national media has taken notice as well. From the cover of Sports Illustrated, to a Grantland spotlight, the NBA world is taking notice – and it’s all well deserved. Big ups, Mike. Keep up the good work.
– Last and most certainly not least, the play of the Grizzlies’ big men is simply critical. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph combined for 46 points, 23 rebounds – 9 of which were offensive, 7 blocks, and 7 free throws in Game 4. It’s production like this that is keeping Kendrick Perkins on the floor. Which should go without saying as good news for the Grizz. However, even when the Thunder go small (as they would prefer), the Grizzlies have done a fine job of working the ball to Gasol, finding himself matched by Durant on the block.
Some Final Musings:
– It had to have felt good for the Grizzlies who were here in 2011, to take an overtime victory in Game 4. They moved to 5-0 on their home court in this year’s playoffs.
– Jerryd Bayless was just 3-9 from the floor in Game 4, but that does no justice to the huge pair of three pointers that he connected on in the second quarter, which helped narrow the gap that the Grizzlies faced headed into the intermission. He has had a rough go of it in these playoffs, as he struggled on the defensive end with the length of Jamal Crawford and Martin.
– Darrell Arthur has had more fouls than rebounds this series (and field goals for that matter), and made a few costly mistakes, but sometimes you have to take the bad with the good. He has sank a few timely jump shots in his limited minutes, these playoffs, and while he’s not as automatic from mid-range as he used to be, he is still capable out there. He was on the cusp of becoming really good before the Achilles injury set him off track, and I have to wonder what good an off-season of working on his game as opposed to dealing with an injury would do for him.