I felt as a final post was in order to let my fellow readers know that this post will be the last one for Thunder In The Post, as I am now officially a staff writer for Thunderous Intentions. Yes, your fellow blogger is moving up in the world, as Thunderous Intentions is part of the Fansided network. Be sure to catch all of my future work at thunderousintentions.com.
I said it in the series preview, and I’ll say it again. If the Thunder defense does not bring their A-Game against the #1 offense of the regular season, the Clippers will light them up. Don’t believe me? Look at the Clippers point totals from the first 3 quarters of Game 1: 39, 30, & 35.
Honestly, how do the Thunder expect to win games if their defense goes AWOL for the first 36 minutes? Chris Paul’s 32 points led all scorers to take the floor, but it wasn’t just the point total that was so astounding. It was the fact that his 32 points came off of 12-for-14 (85.7%) shooting, including 8-for-9 (88.9%) from beyond the arc. That’s just insane efficiency. He definitely had the hot hand in that game. Not only that, but his 10 assists gave him a double-double. Blake Griffin added 23 points, J.J. Redick added 12 off of 5-for-8 (62.5%) shooting, and Jamal Crawford added 17 from the Clippers bench, shooting 6-of-11 (54.5%). The only two double-digit scorers for the Clippers that shot under 50% were Griffin, who’s 23 points came off of 7-for-16 (43.8%) shooting, and Matt Barnes’s 10 points off of 4-for-10 (40%) shooting. Either way, every player to score double-digits for the Clippers shot 40% or better. That type of efficiency from Thunder opponents rarely translates to a Thunder win.
Plus, where was the bench scoring for the Thunder? The Thunder rarely, if ever, win games without at least one person coming off of the bench to score double digits. The starters who scored double-digits were actually quite efficient in their scoring. Kevin Durant’s 25 points came off of 9-for-19 shooting (47.4%), Russell Westbrook’s 29 points came off of 9-for-14 shooting (64.3%), and Serge Ibaka’s 12 points came off of 6-for-9 shooting (66.7%). But no bench players reached the double-digit plateau. Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones III each scored 8, but that was in garbage time, when the game was pretty much already decided.
Tonight’s game will have another 8:30 pm CST tip-off, and the Thunder will look to have their recently named MVP player go off tonight. The thing is, he will need help from his teammates, especially on the defensive end. The Thunder do not want to head to Staples Center down 2-0. Tonight’s game will be featured at the back-end of TNT’s double-header, and will also be broadcast via WWLS The Sports Animal.
(Side note: This may be my final post, as I’ve been picked up as a staff writer for Mark Bruty and Thunderous Intentions, which is part of the Fansided network. I still have to go through the initial setup, but I’ll let everyone know when and where they can catch me next. For those of you who have been loyal readers to this point, I sincerely do appreciate your support.)
If you thought the Thunder-Grizzlies series was a nail-biter, you may not be ready for Thunder-Clippers. People who are sans fingernails from the Thunder’s 7-game showdown with the Grizzlies more than likely won’t make it to the end of this series without experiencing cardiac arrest at some point.
Make no mistake, these two teams are very evenly matched. If you’re looking for proof of that last statement, look no further than the 2-2 season-series split between both squads. The first matchup was played back on Nov. 13th, and was most notorious for the Serge Ibaka-Matt Barnes double ejection.
I honestly agree with one commenter’s assessment of it. They should have thrown out double Ts and moved on. It was only a little shoving, it’s not like a punch was even thrown. Either way, Ibaka’s ejection proved costly for the Thunder, as the Clippers took that matchup 111-103.
Matchup #2 gave us a bit of Thunder revenge a mere eight nights later. An out-of-sync Clippers defense allowed 51.9% shooting from the Thunder, and the Thunder went on to a convincing 105-91 outcome. The thing that stuck out to me about that game was towards the end, when Steven Adams goes to shake the hand of former Thunder player Byron Mullens, and Mullens doesn’t even bother to acknowledge him. Adams, crafty big man that he is, decided to remedy the situation in his own way:
The third matchup was played Feb. 23rd, exactly one week after the All-Star game. The Thunder struggled mightily following the All-Star break, but I thought they played the Clippers well here. The defense did everything you can do short of fouling, but Clippers bench player Jamal Crawford was not going to be stopped in that game. I couldn’t believe some of the shots he was making through the defense the Thunder had on him. He had basically no space, hands all up in his line of sight, and he was still draining jumpers, some of them all-net, which was a big factor in getting the Clippers a 125-117 victory. Here’s video of Crawford’s 36-point performance. Your eyes will pop out of your head as you see some of the shots he was hitting.
Less than a month ago, April 9th, saw the last regular-season meeting between the two squads. It was a game the Thunder controlled pretty much the entire way, but a 4th quarter surge by the Clippers nearly stole the victory. the Thunder were able to hold them off at the end for a 107-101 victory.
As it pertains to this playoff series, the Thunder are staring down the NBA’s highest scoring team of the regular season (averaging 107.9 points a game). Therefore, the Thunder D will need to be on top of their game at all times. One defensive slip up, and a large enough Clipper run, and the Thunder will see games get away from them. This is a Clipper team that does not let up, and they seem to love the run-and-gun style just as much as the Thunder. The Thunder, on the other hand, counter with the league’s leading scorer in Kevin Durant. According to NBA.com, here are five things to keep an eye on as this series progresses:
1) The play of Kevin Durant: He was struggling immensely in the Grizzlies series before a disparaging headline and possible elimination forced him to stop thinking, and start having fun. He went from averaging 28 points on 40% shooting in the first 5 games, to 34.5 points off of 56% shooting in the last 2. He can’t think about things too much. He needs to just go out on the court loose, and treat it like a day at the park. When he just let’s his game flow naturally, he’s at his best. Overanalyzing things has a tendency to hurt an athlete’s overall performance, because then hesitation in said athlete becomes increasingly noticeable. Hesitation in this league can prove very costly. Trust me. This is coming from one of the most notorious overanalyzers on Earth. This is actually the reason I time-crunch assignments in my college courses. Waiting until the last possible second to get my assignments done prevents me from overthinking them, and turning in an incoherent essay with my thoughts all over the place because, “Oh, I just thought of this as well”. Because in all honesty, if certain facts failed to pop in your head as you write something, the thoughts that you omitted are more than likely not that relevant to your topic anyway. But, as you may have noticed, I’m beginning to digress here.
2) Chris Paul’s sore right hamstring: Sore hamstrings are already tough to deal with on their own, but as Mike Conley proved in Game 7 of the previous series, a sore right hamstring is even tougher to deal with when you’re tasked with guarding Russell Westbrook. While Conley was good for 20 points in that game, he had no answer for Westbrook’s blinding speed. Westbrook’s 27-point, 16-assist, 10 rebound triple-double put him in some elite company. Paul should still get his numbers, as he posted a 22 point, 14 assist double-double in Game 7 vs. the Warriors. Although now Paul is going to try to accomplish what Conley could not, and try to limit Westbrook’s numbers on a bad hamstring, which is far easier said than done.
3) The Ibaka-Griffin matchup: Let’s face it. We all know Blake Griffin is a beast. Oklahoma is familiar with Griffin, seeing as he played his high school and college ball here in the state. Griffin is used to dominating his opposition down low, but Ibaka is not a man who can be dominated very easily, if he can be dominated at all. Plus it seems as though tensions really ratchet up in the post when those two are battling down there.
4) Will Westbrook continue to facilitate?: Westbrook’s first 5 games against the Grizzlies saw him take 25.6 shots per game, as he averaged 25.4 points per game on 34% shooting. He actually averaged more points in the final 2 games at 26 off of 51% shooting. His shots per game fell to 18.5 as his assists climbed to 10.5 a game. As long as he can maintain a balance between facilitating and aggression, he’ll help give the Thunder the best possible chance to win.
5) How much do these teams have left?: NBA.com asked this question in regards to the Clippers, but I honestly still feel as though it applies to the Thunder as well. Both teams just came off of brutal and highly physical 7-game tests. Granted, the Thunder really seemed to find their stride in their last 2, while the Clippers were trailing for the majority of their Game 7 against the Warriors, so I can see why NBA.com wasn’t as quick to ask that about the Thunder. But these two teams matchup very well, and this series is expected to be just as physical as their previous ones. One key injury could easily derail either squad.
I’m noticing that when people are asked to pick a winner, the majority will say either the Clippers in 6, or the Thunder in 7. I’m leaning more towards the Thunder in 7 myself. If the Clippers win, they’ll have to get it done in 6, because if a Game 7 in OKC is forced, I just don’t see the Clippers having anything left for it. The reason? I just feel like they’ll expend most of their energy trying to close out Game 6. Failure to do so would leave that team way too drained to compete in Game 7. The Clippers could potentially take a game or two here in OKC, but it certainly won’t be the deciding Game 7 if it comes down to it.
Game 1 comes to us from The Peake, and tip-off is scheduled for 8:30pm CST. The game will be featured at the back-end of TNT’s double-header, and you already know you’re going to want to catch this one. I have a feeling this series could produce even more drama than the last one.
Blaming refs, blaming league officials, blaming any outside force they can think of is exactly what almost all fans do once their team has been eliminated from the postseason. Hell, the conspiracy theories out of Memphis had already started before Game 7 even tipped.
I was seeing ignorant drivel on my Facebook feed to the likes of:
“They only suspended Z-Bo because they can’t afford to have their MVP ousted from the 1st round.”
“That wasn’t a punch! That was a shove!”
“The Grizz would have won if the refs weren’t playing for OKC.”
The last statement made me laugh. If that were the case, why did the Grizzlies take 34 free throws to the Thunder’s 30 in Game 7? Why did they take 28 free throws to the Thunder’s 25 in Game 6? Why did the Grizz take 26 free throws to the Thunder’s 19 in Game 5? Why did they take 23 free throws to the Thunder’s 20 in Game 4? The refs gave the Grizz chance after chance. It’s not the NBA’s fault that the Grizzlies couldn’t cash in at the line.
And to the idiots saying Zach Randolph only pushed Steven Adams and didn’t punch him, this tape proves otherwise.
And some sad Memphis fans still willfully put blinders on and called it a push on the video. The butthurt in the comments section is very strong. I guess I’d be disappointed too if my team had a chance to eliminate a #2 seed in Game 6, only to suffer a monumental 2-game collapse and blow the series. Quit making excuses for a thug like Randolph! He has a history of pulling this crap, and that history is what likely prompted the decision to suspend him. If you can’t hold your emotions in check, you’re in the wrong league. This is not Rucker Park, or The Cage on West 4th St. No blood, no foul does not apply to the NBA. This is a league of professionals, and anyone who fails to conduct themselves in a professional manner suffers the consequences. It doesn’t really matter anyway, because what’s done is done. Hell, I’m done with the Randolph issue. Let’s take a look at these Game 7 numbers.
The Thunder used a total team effort in Game 7 to advance. Kevin Durant’s 33 points led all scorers to take the floor. Russell Westbrook’s 27-point, 16-assist, 10-rebound triple-double marks his 2nd Game 7 triple-double for his postseason career, making him only the 2nd player in NBA history to accomplish the feat, with Rajon Rondo being the 1st. The stat line also makes him the 3rd player in NBA history to score at least 25 points, dish out at least 15 assists, and pull down at least 10 rebounds in an NBA playoff game. Oscar Robinson was the first to accomplish this feat, and Chris Paul (who the Thunder will see in the next round) has accomplished it on two separate occasions. Not only that, but Westbrook’s 16 assists ties a postseason franchise record that was set by Nate McMillan back in ’87, when they were still the Seattle Supersonics. Serge Ibaka was good for 12 points, and Caron Butler scored 15 as he once again started at SG in place of Thabo Sefolosha. While you figure Sefolosha would be a little miffed at being benched, it looks like he took it in stride. I’m sure he feels like any lineup changes that result in an NBA Championship are more than welcome. I know that’s how I’d feel about it if I were in his position. But to conclude, Reggie Jackson came off of the bench to drop 16 points. With a 120-109 victory, those 16 points were the difference between an 11-point victory and a 5-point defeat. When at least one bench player scores big, the Thunder put themselves in a much better position to win.
Marc Gasol’s 24 points led the Grizzlies, but Mike Conley deserves some credit for dropping 20 points while playing on a bad hamstring. Courtney Lee dropped 16, and Tony Allen was good for 15 points starting in place of Tayshaun Prince and playing with an eye injury. Beno Udrih came off of the Grizzlies bench to score 12.
I will bring you the Thunder-Clippers series preview tomorrow. In the meantime, I’m just going to enjoy the series victory. Stay basketball-hungry, my friends.
I’ve noticed this all through the regular season. It’s the reason the Thunder gave up so many 20+-point leads during the regular season, and is the reason the Thunder experienced a 3-2 deficit in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs. There is so much hype surrounding this current Thunder squad that they have a tendency to buy into it themselves at times. It’s understandable. You hear over and over again how good your team is, how good the individual players making up the squad are, and how the GM is building a solid winner, and you can’t help but let some of it go to your head. Buying into hype isn’t always a bad thing. You have to have a certain level of confidence when you hit the court, or a loss is as good as guaranteed. The problem is that you can buy into the hype too much, and start taking things like NBA Championships as a lock before you actually obtain it. This is why the Thunder don’t always play up to their potential. Sometimes they act as if an NBA Championship is a mere formality, treating it as though it’s a guarantee at season’s end.
The thing about the NBA is that, especially in today’s NBA, nothing comes easy. Sure, back in the older days, some things were pretty much a formality. Red Auerbach’s Celtics teams winning NBA Championships throughout the late-50s & mid-60s became a formality. And a few decades later, Michael Jordan’s Bulls teams in the 90s were pretty much a lock for a title, much to the chagrin of legends John Stockton and Karl Malone. But even though the Heat have taken the last two titles, I’m not sure if you can call them a lock this year. One key injury could completely derail that team.
Last night’s Thunder performance was “night-and-day different” from the last 4 outings. They were spacing the floor much better on offense, there was great ball movement, much better shot selection, and they played like a team with something to prove. One thing I’ve noticed about this Thunder team is that they sometimes need a good, solid hit to the mouth before they start taking things seriously. It’s a lot like when I did amateur boxing. I was always one of those guys who didn’t really get moving until I took a good one to the chin. Then I was like, “Oh yeah. I’m in a fight right now. I’d better pick it up.”
And pick it up is exactly what Kevin Durant did in the face of a disparaging headline from The Oklahoman that referred to him as “Mr. Unreliable”. From my standpoint, I don’t see why The Oklahoman issued an apology. As it came to this series, they weren’t wrong. Some people took it as an attack on Durant’s character or entire body of work in the NBA. I actually find it sad that The Oklahoman had to clarify that the headline was only in reference to his performance in the Grizzlies series, which even Durant failed to disagree with, saying:
“That’s what they’re supposed to write. I didn’t come through for the team.”
And if the headline is what it took to wake him up, then so be it. I personally think Durant plays better when he has a chip on his shoulder anyway. Most players do. Give fantastic NBA players something to prove, and they’ll more often than not, do just that.
Hell, Durant put up a 36-point, 10-rebound double-double playing with that chip on his shoulder. If disparaging headlines gets Durant to play this well, maybe the next headline should read, “KD Pushes Down Little Old Ladies Just Trying To Cross The Street. Is The NBA Stardom Going To His Head?” Heck, he might go off for 50 points after reading that one. The headline wasn’t even about Russell Westbrook, but it seemed to help his play too, as he took a step back in the 1st quarter to let Durant make his case. That ended up netting Durant 14 points in that one 12-minute period. (Interesting note: The Thunder are 5-0 in the postseason when Durant scores 14 or more in the 1st quarter.) But even in taking that step back, Westbrook still finished his night with 25 points. Reggie Jackson’s 16 points off of the bench were a major help as well.
And in a good coaching move, Scott Brooks opted to start Caron Butler over Thabo Sefolosha. In fact, Sefolosha never saw the floor. Yet, the defense was as good as I’ve seen all series long, and Butler’s presence gave this Thunder starting 5 a 4th scoring option. This lineup change alone is most likely how the Thunder were getting such good floor spacing last night, because all three perimeter players were 3-point threats. You can’t pack the paint in that scenario. And speaking of paint performances, hats off to Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams for the way they frustrated the Grizzlies’ paint offense last night. Ibaka’s 4 blocks were actually outnumbered by Adams’ 5 from off of the Thunder bench. You give Adams a couple more years of development, and I think he ends up filling in the missing piece to a Thunder title run.
And the Grizzlies’ offense in the paint found themselves increasingly frustrated at the Ibaka/Adams block party that was taking place last night. Marc Gasol was held to 17 points, while Zach Randolph managed 16. Neither had a double-double to speak of, which is rather unusual when you talk about that big man duo. Tony Allen and James Johnson were able to combine for 28 points off of the Grizzlies bench to no avail (Johnson: 15, Allen: 13).
I said in the series preview not to be surprised if this went to 7 games. This series has gone almost exactly as I envisioned it, with the only difference being that I had the winners of Games 5 and 6 switched. Oddly, last night was the first Game 6 loss by the Grizzlies in franchise playoff history (They are now 4-1 all-time.). That’s the most likely reason you heard a few Thunder fans lose faith in the squad’s ability to extend the series. Plus, this 2-game losing streak at the Grindhouse comes off of the heels of a 15-game Grindhouse winning streak. Now, even though the series just turned into a winner-take-all matchup, I feel like it’s the Grizzlies’ back against the wall after they just got handed the most lopsided defeat of the series. Game 7 comes to us from The Peake tomorrow night at 7pm CST. So far, it looks like TNT has acquired the rights to broadcast. I’ll let you know if anything changes TV-wise. One thing that is certain, however, is that the matchup will definitely be broadcast via WWLS The Sports Animal. You know you don’t want to miss this one.
I had stated in a previous article that if Kevin Durant’s shooting numbers didn’t improve, I didn’t see how the Thunder could expect to escape the series. And now, after a 10-for-24 (41.7%) shooting performance, plus some questionable decision-making by Scott Brooks, the Thunder are now a potential bad 48 minutes away from being one of the biggest disappointments of the 2014 NBA postseason.
It’s not just the fact that Durant was used mainly as a decoy to space the floor for Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson towards the end of the game, it’s also how Westbrook rushed way too many of his shots, and the entire offense looked rushed as a result. Westbrook needs to slow his roll and look for open teammates. If none are available, create a shot. But don’t sit here and rush your shot selection. You have a full 24 seconds to select a shot. Use some of that time! It’s not rocket science!
Plus, there’s a reason Charles Barkley criticized Brooks’ decision to go for 3 at game’s end instead of driving the lane with 2.6 seconds remaining. A 2-pointer would have won the game. Instead, we got a contested 3-ball, and now the Thunder are 1 loss away from elimination.
Yes, some will point to Joey Crawford’s inexplicable interruption of Durant’s 2nd free throw, but MVP’s shouldn’t have their game thrown off by little things like that.
And in a playoff-record 4 straight OT games, the Thunder have amassed a 1-3 record, after going 3-1 against this same team in the regular season.
I don’t even feel like going into numbers. I’m so disappointed with how the Thunder have performed to this point. It’s almost like the team from the regular season isn’t the one that showed up to the playoffs. Tonight’s 7pm CST matchup on TNT may very well be the last time we see them play this season. Although all hope is not lost. Back-to-back victories will move the Thunder to the next round, but they’ve lost all room for error at this point. Can they get it done? We’ll find out later this evening.
At least Reggie Jackson showed up last night, because it didn’t seem as though Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook bothered to do so, at least offensively. Although I have to give credit to the entire squad for the team defense displayed last night. Without it, Jackson’s 32 points probably would have been a moot point as we talked about the Thunder’s 3-1 deficit.
To be honest though, the Thunder should count themselves very lucky that they escaped The Grindhouse with the W, considering that the previous 15 games played at FedExForum (I’d been spelling it wrong this whole time. FedExForum is, weirdly, all one word.) all resulted in Grizzlies victories. The last team to win at The Grindhouse before last night’s Thunder victory was the Mavericks back on Feb. 5th.
With that noted, teams rarely outgrind the Grizzlies, especially in The Grindhouse, but that’s exactly what the Thunder did last night. They managed to beat the Grizzlies at their own game, holding them under 20 points in each of the first 3 quarters to help secure a 90-89 OT win. Again, it’s a damn good thing Thunder D showed up last night, because teams that have a mere 90 points after 53 minutes of play are usually on the losing end. Although to be fair, teams that score a total of 80 points in regulation are usually too far behind for overtime to even be a possibility.
Durant really seems to be losing his shooting stroke as the series wears on. After shooting 13-for-25 (52%) in the series opener, he’s dropped to 12-for-28 (48.9%) in Game 2, 10-for-27 (37%) in Game 3, and an absolutely abysmal 5-for-21 (23.8%) last night. We can’t expect Jackson to bail him out of these games either. If his play doesn’t pick up, I honestly don’t see how the Thunder expect to move on to the Western Conference Semi-Finals.
Another thing that is beginning to irk me is how no one can ever seem to find Serge Ibaka at the offensive end. We looked at Durant’s shooting numbers, now we look at Westbrook’s, then we compare them to Ibaka’s.
Westbrook: 8-of-19 (42.1%) in Game 1, 11-of-28 (39.3%) in Game 2, 9-of-26 (34.6%) in Game 3, and 6-of-24 (25%) last night. Just looking at his numbers alone, you can see his offensive effectiveness trailing off as well.
Meanwhile, Ibaka has posted percentages like 6-of-8 (75%) in Game 1, 6-of-12 (50%) in Game 2, 6-of-10 (60%) in Game 3, and 6-of-11 (54.5%) last night. He’s shot 50% or better in every game so far. Why the hell is he only taking 10 to 12 shots a game? Why does he rarely ever see the ball in the 4th quarter or overtime? It’s not just the Durant & Westbrook show. Ibaka should be considered the third guy in the Thunder’s Big 3.
Oddly, three separate double-doubles on the Grizzlies side couldn’t secure a win for them. Marc Gasol had a 23-point, 11-rebound double-double, while Mike Conley posted 14 points and 10 assists. Even bench player Tony Allen posted a 14-point, 13-rebound double-double. But I have to give Thunder D credit for the way they limited Zach Randolph. A man who averaged a double-double over the course of the regular season managed a grand total of 11 points last night. And with only 7 boards, Randolph didn’t even come close to a double-double last night.
Game 5 is coming back to The Peake this Tuesday for an 8pm CST tip-off. Now that the series is knotted up 2 games apiece, Game 5 has officially been rendered a pivotal one. They win this, and the Thunder are in the driver’s seat, one win away from advancing to the conference semis. They lose, and they’re backs are against the wall for two straight must-win matchups. I will definitely stay locked into this series. It’s getting every bit as good as I hoped it would.
The Thunder really need to snap out of this current funk they’re in. I really don’t understand their mentality sometimes. They almost act like all they need to do to start getting 3s to fall is keep shooting, and they’ll eventually fall. I blame Scott Brooks for this. They may be a finesse shooting team, but finesse shooting teams generally don’t win championships. And everything seems to be falling apart all at once. What do the Thunder need to do to right the ship and start getting wins against the Grizzlies?
1) Russell Westbrook needs to stop trying to take games over by himself. This is the Thunder, not Westbrook & Co. He is not much of a traditional PG, because half of the time he fails to even look for open teammates. Why is Serge Ibaka only shooting 10 shots when he was shooting 60% for the game? Because of Westbrook’s inability to get him open looks, and Westbrook’s unwillingness to look for him at times.
2) Kevin Durant needs to be not only more confident, but more assertive. I’ve never seen such a strong scorer with such a meek personality. Durant needs to start scowling more, and playing, walking, and even talking with more swagger. You’re one of the best in the game, KD! But it means nothing if you don’t believe it yourself.
3) Serge Ibaka could stand to be a bit more demanding of the ball. Everyone knows about Ibaka’s defense, but his midrange 18-foot jumper drops more often than not. Sadly, his abilities as a scorer are still vastly underrated.
4) Where the hell did the bench go for these past 2 games? If they start showing up, it would certainly help matters. 9 total points out of 5 different bench players won’t help anything.
I don’t care that they forced overtime again last night. The fact of the matter is, they still lost. Westbrook’s 30-point, 13-rebound double-double didn’t help anything, because he only dished out 2 assists total. Durant’s 30 points were meaningless, and Ibaka’s 12 points should have been a lot more. When you only have 13 assists to the Grizzlies’ 21, it’s obvious which squad is playing as a team, and which squad is playing like a bunch of guys who happen to be sharing the same ball court.
In contrast, six different Grizzlies ended the game in double figures. Zach Randolph had a 16-point, 13-rebound double-double, while Marc Gasol dropped 14 points, and Courtney Lee dropped 10. Mike Conley’s 20 points led all Grizzlies scorers, but they just get more from their bench. Tony Allen and Beno Udrih combined for 28 points off of the Grizzlies bench (Allen: 16, Udrih: 12).
Another Saturday 8:30 tip-off is coming. Maybe that’s what we need to get on the right track. The last 8:30 CST tip-off on a Saturday saw us take a 25-point lead at one point. It will be broadcast via ESPN and WWLS The Sports Animal. Lose Saturday’s game, and it’s doubtful they escape this series at all. I guess we’ll see what happens.
I don’t see this article being particularly lengthy this time. While the Grizzlies “grind-it-out” style suits them well, and sets them up for wins, it is decidedly boring to watch as a spectator. The Grizzlies basically controlled the pace from start to finish, and save for a couple of impressive made baskets by the Thunder near and at the end of regulation, there was nothing really of note. So I suppose I’ll provide video of the moments that made Thunder fans cheer in that game. (There aren’t many.)
Here’s video of Kevin Durant’s “I-can’t-believe-that-just-happened” 4-point play:
Without that, this “he-really-just-hit-a-buzzer-beater” move by Perkins would not have been possible:
Unfortunately, those two amazing plays simply delayed the inevitable, as the pace slowed to molasses once again for the OT period. The Grizzlies got the grinder they wanted, and tied the series 1-1 with a 111-105 victory.
Durant had 36 points and 11 rebounds. Serge Ibaka also had a 15-point, 11-rebound double-double. Russell Westbrook dropped 25 points. What killed the Thunder was their lack of bench production. 14 bench points were scored by a total of five different Thunder players. Normally we can get that kind of production from just one bench player.
Zach Randolph’s 25 points led all Grizzlies scorers. While Marc Gasol and Courtney Lee dropped 16 points apiece, the real damage was done via Mike Conley’s 19-point, 12-assist double-double. And Nick Calathes’ suspension opened the door for Beno Udrih, who scored 14 points off of the Grizzlies bench.
Game 3 is coming to us tonight from FedEx Forum, affectionately nicknamed “The Grindhouse” in regards to the Grizzlies’ style of play. And with Saturday’s Game 4 also coming from “The Grindhouse”, the Thunder will either have to figure out how to win through the grind, or break up the grind a bit and start getting out in transition. If they don’t do either in these next two games, the Thunder will find themselves in the unenviable position of staring down a 3-1 series deficit as they come back home, and only 8 NBA teams in history have taken a series in the face of that deficit. The last one to do so was the Suns over the Lakers, and that was 8 years ago. Tonight’s game is featured as the front-end of TNT’s double-header, or you can catch the game via WWLS The Sports Animal.
It didn’t really surprise me. This is something for which the Thunder have become known. Their regular-season tendency to jump out to a 20+-point lead, only to give away not only said lead, but eventually the game itself to the opposition almost reared its ugly head for their first postseason match-up of 2014. Why it wasn’t surprising was because this happened on a day when the 3 other home teams that played Saturday all found a way to drop their series openers. Once you factor in that two other road teams won yesterday, we all bore witness to history. For the first time since the NBA Playoffs expanded to 16 teams in the ’83-’84 season, 5 road teams claimed Game 1 on opening weekend.
I was in attendance for the first half, a half that was all Thunder. The Thunder jumped out to a quick 8-0 lead that eventually ended as a 14-2 run. With the Thunder lead 19-10 at the 5:25 mark of the 1st quarter, the Thunder spark a 6-1 mini-run that extended the Thunder lead to 14 (25-11). The 1st quarter ended with the Thunder up 29-16 in a quarter that saw the Grizzlies shoot an ice-cold 17.2% (5-for-29).
2nd quarter saw more ice-cold Grizzlies shooting, and the Thunder were all too willing to take advantage. After a Tony Allen dunk cut the lead to 11 (29-18), the Thunder sparked yet another run. This run ended up as a 20-8 run, adding more cushion to the Thunder lead (49-26) with 3:29 to go in the first half. After a couple of lay ups by Mike Conley and Zach Randolph cut the Thunder lead to 19 (49-30), the Thunder almost ended the quarter on a 7-1 run that saw them extend the Thunder lead to 25 (56-31). That would have been the halftime score also, but James Johnson ended the half with a last-minute 3-ball that actually marked the first outside-the-paint points for the Grizzlies all game. The score would be 56-34 going into the break, ending a half in which the Grizzlies picked it up a bit, but were still shooting a miserable 25% from the field. This was turning into such a beating, I decided to leave at halftime to beat the traffic.
That probably wasn’t my wisest decision, as the Thunder came out flat in the 3rd quarter, while the Grizzlies started to heat up. They opened the 3rd with a 8-0 run that ended as a 17-4 run, cutting the Thunder lead to 9 (60-51) with 7:17 to play in the 3rd. Serge Ibaka tried to slow the Grizzlies’ roll with free throws, hitting all 4 attempts to reextend the Thunder lead to 11 (64-53), with 5:51 left in the 3rd. The Grizzlies were still hot at this point though, ending the quarter on a 12-5 run that had cut the Thunder lead to 4 (69-65) to start the 4th quarter.
Shots began to get traded back and forth in the 4th quarter, allowing the Grizzlies to cut their deficit to a mere 2 points (74-72) with 8:46 to play. Thankfully for Thunder fans, this would be as close as the Grizzlies would come to claiming the lead, as not only did the Grizz go cold again, but the Thunder started heating up again as well. An almost immediate 15-4 run reestablished a double-digit lead for the Thunder (89-75) with 5:30 remaining, and subsequently put the game out of reach for the Grizzlies. They ended the game trading buckets, and the Thunder escaped Game 1 with a 100-86 victory.
Kevin Durant scored 33 points in the Game 1 victory, but I’d give Player of the Game to Russell Westbrook for his 23-point, 10-rebound double-double. Although Ibaka scored 17 points while being just one rebound shy of a double-double himself.
Randolph’s 21-point, 11-rebound double-double came as no surprise to me, seeing as the man averaged a double-double in the regular season (17.4 PPG, 10.1 RPG). Marc Gasol was good for 16 points. Mike Conley was also good for 16 points, but had 11 assists to go with them, and Allen’s 13 points off of the bench almost provided the spark required to steal Game 1 outright.
Game 2 tips off tonight at 7pm CST, and will be featured at the front-end of tonight’s TNT double-header, with Clippers-Warriors immediately following it up. Not near a TV, but can pick up radio signals? You can also catch the action on WWLS The Sports Animal.