Who: Memphis Grizzlies vs Oklahoma City Thunder
When: Monday, May 13, 8:30 PM CST
Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
Series Standing: Memphis Leads 2-1
Media: ESPN, 92.9 FM, 680 AM
Forums: 3 Shades of Blue, Grizzlies Message Board
Opposing Views: Daily Thunder
Memphis survived a tough game at home on Sunday to win despite losing rebounding, the points in the paint and fast break points. After losing two games by missing free throws, the Grizzlies won a game by making free throws instead. Defense, the core of the team, was there at times but absent at times as well. Clearly, despite the winning margin, this was a game the team can’t feel confident about repeating if they want to hold onto the home court advantage. Memphis was led by Marc Gasol with 20 points and 8 rebounds. Zach Randolph struggled offensively but managed to grab 10 rebounds. Mike Conley, coming off his best playoff game ever, was only 3-9 from the field, but did grab 7 rebounds and dish out 6 assists to go with 2 steals and a blocked shot. This game was a redemption of sorts for the bench with contributions coming from all four bench players who hit the court. The Grizzlies were 3-5 from the arc in the 4th quarter with all 3 buckets coming from bench players. The Grizzlies need to protect against over-confidence now with the series, and the media, seemingly swaying in their favor. The crowd will give their all to keep the momentum going but the players have to execute on the court under the pressure.
Oklahoma City has to be kicking themselves after letting a very winnable game escape their grasp. The Thunder knew they needed to change things up to take the momentum away from the Grizzlies. They did just that in many ways. First, the Thunder dominated the boards. Second, the Thunder needed to control the paint. Third, OKC needed to get out and run. What they didn’t need was to lose their shooting touch and that was the reason the Thunder lost. The Thunder were 2nd in the league in FT shooting % for the season at 83.8% as a team, 10th in FG% and 3rd in 3 pt % for the season but Saturday night the Thunder missed dunks (2), 3 pt shots (13) and most painful of all free throws (7) in falling by four points to the Grizzlies. The Thunder actually can take a lot of confidence from game 3 as they proved the things people worried about were areas they could compete in and the shooting issues likely won’t repeat in Game 4. The one problem that has not been solved is Kevin Durant’s poor 4th quarter shooting. Durant was 6-8 in the first half but only 3-11 in the second and only 1 of 4 in the 4th along with missing both of his FT attempts. Logging 45:44 minutes had to bring fatigue into question.
For individual matchup analyses, check out the Series Post
– Memphis can be pleased with the win but not with the team’s execution. Shooting 40.2% from the field, beaten on the boards, destroyed in the paint and fast break points, the Grizzlies were not the big bad boys the media has portrayed them to be in predicting the Grizzlies should win the Western Conference title this season. The Grizzlies bigs will need to get back to controlling the boards and scoring in the paint if they want to move into the Conference Finals much less the NBA Finals.
– It wasn’t only the Grizzlies bigs who were out-played. Mike Conley, coming off a career playoff best performance in Game 2, Conley struggled with a defensive change by the Thunder who played defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha on Conley early and often. After wearing down Conley with the bigger and more physical guard, the Thunder switched to the faster Jackson who’s speed caused problems for Conley late, especially with an embarrassing half court steal off the dribble that left Conley prone at midcourt while Jackson went in for the dunk. Conley did fill the stat sheet in other ways in Game 3 but his ability to score from anywhere within 25 feet is an important aspect of the Grizzlies offense. When Sefalosha plays Conley, expect more physical picks from Gasol and Randolph to help give Conley space to attack more.
– While the Thunder move slowed Conley down, it came with a price. Tony Allen and Jerryd Bayless attacked the smaller Jackson. Allen scored a team leading 11 first half points and Jerryd Bayless, a non-factor for most of the series, came to life adding 8 big points. If the Thunder continue to use Sefolosha on Conley the Grizzlies will need to continue to exploit Jackson’s lack of size.
– Quincy Pondexter has come to life as well in the playoffs after a difficult stretch rebounding from a knee injury suffered earlier in the season. Pondexter has matched Tayshaun Prince’s scoring at 7.3 PPG in 11 fewer minutes a night and provided solid defense on Durant as well. In the 4th quarter of Game 3 Pondexter outscored Durant while playing nearly the entire quarter.
– In Game 1 the Grizzlies big men dealt with early foul trouble that negated their effectiveness somewhat. In Game 2 the Thunder’s bigs were in foul trouble. In Game 3 neither side had their bigs in early foul trouble but Gasol was tagged with two fouls early in the 3rd quarter. He did manage to play through the foul problem but was unable to be as aggressive as he normally likes to be. The battle of big men foul trouble will likely have a huge impact in game 4’s outcome as well. Neither team’s bench bigs have been able to make a consistent positive impact on the court.
– Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins have been off their games in the series punctuated by two missed dunks in Game 3 by Ibaka and general ineffectiveness from Perkins. Ibaka was a reliable scorer during the season for the Thunder averaging 13.2 PPG on 57% shooting from the field during the regular season but has dropped to 11.9 PPG on 43% shooting in the series. Kendrick Perkins has been even worse scoring only 2.2 PPG on 29% shooting while consistently being outplayed by Marc Gasol.
– To cover for OKC’s big men’s foul troubles and poor play, the Thunder have taken to playing small ball with Durant playing power forward. With Kevin Martin, Derek Fisher and Durant all capable of hitting the long ball, it puts the Grizzlies in a difficult position of benching either Randolph or Gasol to match up defensively or forcing the Grizzlies bigs out on the perimeter on defense. This extra workload has had an effect on Durant in the 2nd half scoring. Durant is well aware of the pressure on his shoulders and vowed to do even more going forward but one has to wonder just how much more there is left in his tank.
– The Thunder’s small ball philosophy did allow the Grizzlies to rest some players more than usual. No one played more than 38 minutes in the game for the Grizzlies with Marc Gasol, who had been averaging close to 40 minutes a night playing only 36 minutes in Game 4, the same amount as Zach Randolph. Durant played nearly 46 minutes and has averaged over 41 minutes in the playoffs.
Some Final Musings:
– The series continues to be much tougher than some analysts expected. Despite losing All-Star Russell Westbrook in the first round, the series has been as close as any series in recent history. How close you ask? The lead has changed hands more often (49 times) in the first three games than any series in the league since 2000. In Game 3 the lead changed hands only once in the 2nd half however. OKC took their largest lead of the game (3 points) with a basket to open the 2nd half but lost the lead for good soon after. The Thunder did tie the game at 81 however before the Grizzlies scored the final 6 points of the game.
– Oklahoma City’s 81 points in Game 3 was the lowest point total in a playoff game for the Thunder this season. Their shooting percentage (36.4%) was the lowest in a playoff game since Denver held them to just 36.3% shooting in a 97-94 victory for OKC in April, 2001. The field goal percentage was in large part to the Grizzlies preventing shots in the paint in the 2nd half. After shooting 21 times within 5 feet in the first half the Thunder managed only 7 attempts in the 2nd half thanks in no small part to Defensive player of the year Marc Gasol who played most of the 2nd half with 4 fouls.
– Game 4 two years ago between Oklahoma City and Memphis resulted in an epic contest. The Grizzlies led the series 2 games to 1 heading into the game. The triple overtime thriller turned the momentum of the series. Mike Conley made a clutch three-point shot to force a 2nd overtime. After Conley a and Mayo fouled out in the second overtime, rookie Greivis Vasquez made a double pumped three-point shot to force a 3rd overtime but the Grizzlies had nothing left as the Thunder escaped with a 133-123 win on their way to taking the series in 7 games.
– The Grizzlies are now 11-3 at home in the last 3 years. The Grizzlies first 3 years in the playoffs the team was 0-6. One of those losses was in Game 4 of the conference semi-finals in 2011 to the Oklahoma City Thunder in triple overtime.