Who: Memphis Grizzlies vs Oklahoma City Thunder
When: 2nd Round, Western Conference playoffs
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK and FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
Records: Memphis (56-26, 4-2 in Playoffs), Oklahoma City (60-22, 4-2 in Playoffs)
Media: ABC, ESPN, TNT, Sportsouth, 92.9 FM, 680 AM
Forums: 3 Shades of Blue, Grizzlies Message Board
Opposing Views: Daily Thunder
Game 1 tips off at 12:00PM on May 5th and will be broadcast on ABC.
Memphis is ready to make the second stop on its retribution tour this postseason, as the team gears up for the Western Conference Semi Finals. In their past two playoff appearances, the Grizzlies were ousted by the Thunder in round 2 and the Clippers in round 1, respectively. Now after serving up a nice cold dish of revenge to the Clippers in the first round this year, they poetically take the court against the Thunder in round two. After trailing the Clippers 0-2, Lionel Hollins and his coaching staff adjusted and the players harnessed that good ol’ Memphis Grit and Grind, as the Grizzlies stormed back to win four in a row – all by double digits – to move on to the next round. If it was ever in question, Zach Randolph will never have to buy a drink in the city of Memphis for the rest of his life. I’m not sure I’ve seen a more emphatically positive ejection than when he was tossed from the closing minutes of Game Six at the Forum. This Grizzlies team has a legitimate claim as the best that the franchise has ever seen, and could solidify that with a strong showing in this series.
Oklahoma City is attempting to weather the storm without its catalyst and All-NBA point guard Russell Westbrook. While his absence does weaken the team to an extent, and exposes just how important he is to what this team does offensively, this series will be the furthest thing from a walk in the park. The name Kevin Durant has a lot to do with that. Durant fully embodies the term superstar, but without his running mate to free him up for efficient shots, it will be interesting to see how he responds in this series. Aside from Durant, the Thunder do possess some of the requisite weaponry to match up with the Grizzlies, as their three-headed monster in the paint of Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, and Nick Collison will ensure that the Grizzlies bigs walk away from this series with some bumps and bruises.
Expected Starting Lineups:
Looking at Conley’s postseason career, he has survived postseason duels against the likes of Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, and Chris Paul twice. A strong case can be made for that trio as the top three point guards in the league, so Conley has had plenty of opportunity to polish his chops against the best of the best with the stakes at their highest. Last round, he may have been a bit shaky shooting the ball, but his play otherwise was anything but. Mike showed admirable poise and a steady hand against a Clippers team that was clearly devoted to sticking him at all times. Jackson may hang in the elite air of the aforementioned counterparts at the point guard position, but he is far from a vacation as an assignment. He has a style of play akin to that of Eric Bledsoe in that he will play tight, frustrating defense, and knows how to use his strength and quickness to his advantage, but still tends to get a bit out of control at times.
This is an interesting matchup-to-be, because both players are known for their defensive impact. Allen’s major realm of concern will be guarding Kevin Martin off the Thunder’s bench, and helping out on Durant. Allen played an enormous role in the Grizzlies clinching victory in the first round, as he combined his usual grit with some surprisingly effective offensive play to will the team to victory. Between his bloated rebounding numbers as a result of crashing the boards, and his slashing to the basket on off-ball cuts, he was a nightmare for the Clippers around the basket, and figures to continue to play a large role against the Thunder.
One thing that the new regime of management has made perfectly clear with its personnel acquisitions is that it values length – especially on the wing. Before Westbrook went down, it was all but a foregone conclusion that winning the West would require going through Oklahoma City, which leaves one to wonder if matching up with Durant plays a large role in that equation. Prince has all the prerequisites to give Durant a tough time this series: he’s long, he’s smart, and he recovers well off the ball. That being said, Prince does have one major limitation: he’s human. Durant is not your typical volume scorer, because unlike the Carmelo Anthonys of the world, he possesses superior shot selection. Without Westbrook in the mix, he likely have to take a few bad shots, but he can make those too, and he gets to the line at will with that rip move by taking advantage of the awkwardness of his release point.
Advantage: Oklahoma City
This is a matchup that will be a tough one to call, because of the fact that Ibaka has the length, leaping ability, and jump shot to really force Zbo away from what he does best. However, the same could have been said about Blake Griffin, and Randolph went on to switch into “2011 mode” and have a magnificent series against the Clips. As an additional “however,” it is likely that Zbo will see plenty of his trips down court guarded by Kendrick Perkins, which tends to get a bit hairy given the history between the two. We all know that Zbo doesn’t bluff…
Perkins is a big burly body that will be sure to get his fair share of shots in. And no, I’m not talking about jumpers. Perkins and Gasol will be exchanging body blows from the first whistle through the duration of the series. Unlike many in the league, Perk actually has the size to absorb it coming from Marc. Gasol’s finesse game on offense will likely overwhelm Perkins, especially when drawn away from the paint, which makes Ibaka a more likely candidate to stick Gasol outside of 10 feet.
Dooling spent a lot of time guarding Paul in the last round, but Fisher should be much more his speed. Fisher is however a bit craftier, takes charges like nobody’s business, and is not one to shy away from the moment. There are few players less phased by the bright lights when letting it fly from deep.
Advantage: Oklahoma City
The original “Grizzly Killer,” Martin is a dynamite shooter who commands a defender to be attached at the hip at all times. He moves without the ball as well as anybody in the game and is a master at drawing contact when he catches the defense out of position. Martin will be called upon extensively in this series to assume a portion of the playmaking abilities that have been lost in the absence of Westbrook and James Harden. Bayless had himself an up-and-down series in the first round, as he saw his playing time fluctuate from game-to-game. However, like a true professional, he stayed ready to answer the call as he exploded for an instrumental 18 points in the series clinching Game 6 victory.
Advantage: Oklahoma City
Pondexter’s jumper was not as consistent as you would like it to be in the first round, but that didn’t stop him from making some big shots when it mattered most. His story is far better told from the defensive perspective, though. On the defensive end of the floor, Pondexter was as good as ever against the Clippers, as he was frequently called upon to defend the likes of CP3 and did an excellent job of keeping the ball out of his man’s hands. Liggins is an intriguing athlete who shows some intensity defensively, but fouls often and seldom scores.
If there was ever an official list of power forwards that consistently give Zbo a hard time, it would be a very short list. That being said, Collison would find himself right up there near the top with Reggie Evans. Collison has an Evans-esque approach to the game that seems to skirt the line between crafty and dirty depending on whether you’re rooting for or against him. He’s a heady player that will leave it all on the floor, and knows how to use his six fouls. Darrell has struggled to find his rhythm since that dangerous fall against Orlando, but he got some key jumpers to fall against the Clippers, and will never be short on effort. This matchup will always make me recall the greatest Grizzly dunk that never was.
Advantage: Oklahoma City
If last series is to serve as any indication, it is not likely that either of these guys will see too much burn, but stranger things have happened. If given the opportunity, Davis can hit the boards and score on hooks around the basket. If Hasheem gets any burn, it will likely mean that he’s jumping in to use up some of his fouls, grab a board or two, and alter a few shots in the paint.
In the playoffs you do not generally expect the deep bench to factor in all that much, but it would be dishonest of me to ignore the thought that Lionel Hollins may toy with the idea of using Austin Daye’s length to match up with Durant a bit. You never know when his shooting will make a difference, but he travels on offense what seems like at least once a game, and gets lost for stretches defensively.
The deep bench of the Thunder consists of young players Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, Daniel Orton, and one-time Grizzly, Ronnie Brewer. Of the bunch, Brewer appears to be the most likely to make some noise in a pinch with his defensive ability, as it was not too long ago that he was starting for a very competitive Bulls team, and the Knicks before Iman Shumpert returned from injury this season.
PPG – Points Per Game
RPG – Rebounds Per Game
APG – Assists Per Game
SPG – Steals Per Game
BPG – Blocks Per Game
TOPG – Turnovers Per Game
PER – Player Efficiency Rating
WP48 – Wins Produced Per 48 Minutes