Let the Memphis Conspiracy Theories Begin

Let the Memphis Conspiracy Theories Begin

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.

Kevin Durant led all scorers with his 33 points. Here he is with that scowl I like to see from him. Get mad, KD!

Kevin Durant led all scorers with his 33 points. Here he is with that scowl I like to see from him. Get mad, KD!

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.

Russell Westbrook's 27-point, 16-assist, 10-rebound triple-double proved historic.

Russell Westbrook’s 27-point, 16-assist, 10-rebound triple-double proved historic.

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.

Serge Ibaka dropped 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

Serge Ibaka dropped 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

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.

Caron Butler scores 15 starting in place of Thabo Sefolosha for the 2nd straight game.

Caron Butler scores 15 starting in place of Thabo Sefolosha for the 2nd straight game.

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.

Reggie Jackson was good for 16 points off of the Thunder bench.

Reggie Jackson was good for 16 points off of the Thunder bench.

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.

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Thunder Respond To Being Pushed To The Brink With Best Postseason Performance So Far

Thunder Respond To Being Pushed To The Brink With Best Postseason Performance So Far

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.

All three major Thunder contributors are pictured here. Westbrook dropped 25 points for the game, Reggie Jackson was good for 16 off of the Thunder bench, and Kevin Durant's 36-point, 10-rebound double-double marked his best peformance of the series to this point.

All three major Thunder contributors are pictured here. Russell Westbrook dropped 25 points for the game, Reggie Jackson was good for 16 off of the Thunder bench, and Kevin Durant’s 36-point, 10-rebound double-double marked his best performance of the series to this point.

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.

Zach Randoplh tries to back down Kendrick Perkins. Perkins' defense was a major contributor in Randolph only scoring 16 for the game.

Zach Randolph tries to back down Kendrick Perkins. Perkins’ defense was a major contributor in Randolph only scoring 16 for the game.

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.”

All of the major Grizzlies contributors are in frame here. Marc Gasol was held to 17 points total, while Tony Allen dropped 13 bench points, and James Johnson contributed 15 additional bench points.

All of the major Grizzlies contributors are in frame here. Marc Gasol was held to 17 points total, while Tony Allen dropped 13 bench points, and James Johnson contributed 15 additional bench points.

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:

Johnson decides fouling Durant just isn't worth it.

Johnson decides fouling Durant just isn’t worth it.

“That’s what they’re supposed to write. I didn’t come through for the team.”

Honestly, I love the looks on their faces. They play better when they have something to prove.

Honestly, I love the looks on their faces. They play better when they have something to prove.

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.

Point Guard vs. Center? You know Westbrook isn't afraid of the challenge.

Point Guard vs. Center? You know Westbrook isn’t afraid of the challenge.

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.

Beno Udrih tries to run with Jackson.

Beno Udrih tries to run with Jackson.

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.

It wasn't even Steven Adams' house. He told Tony Allen to get that mess out of here anyway.

It wasn’t even Steven Adams’ house. He told Tony Allen to get that mess out of here anyway.

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).

Westbrook takes the wide-open shot.

Westbrook takes the wide-open shot.

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.

Start Playing As A Team, Or Finish The Playoffs From The Comfort Of Your Sofa: What The Thunder Need To Do To Get Back In The Series.

Start Playing As A Team, Or Finish The Playoffs From The Comfort Of Your Sofa: What The Thunder Need To Do To Get Back In The Series.

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?

Russell Westbrook drives around Serge Ibaka's pick. Westbrook had a 30-point, 13-rebound double-double, while Ibaka finished with 12 points.

Russell Westbrook drives around Serge Ibaka’s pick. Westbrook had a 30-point, 13-rebound double-double, while Ibaka finished with 12 points.

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.

Kevin Durant also finished with 30 points.

Kevin Durant also finished with 30 points.

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.

Ibaka shot 60% on 6-for-10 shooting last night.

Ibaka shot 60% on 6-for-10 shooting last night.

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.

Westbrook shoots over Tony Allen as Zach Randolph loks on.

Westbrook shoots over Tony Allen as Zach Randolph looks on.

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.

Westbrook looks to squeeze through Courtney Lee and Marc Gasol.

Westbrook looks to squeeze through Courtney Lee and Marc Gasol.

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.

Westbrook at the foul line as Durant looks on.

Westbrook at the foul line as Durant looks on.

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).

Durant goes past Gasol for a lay-in attempt.

Durant goes past Gasol for a lay-in attempt.

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.

Grizzlies “Grind Game” Effective, But Decidedly Unentertaining.

Grizzlies “Grind Game” Effective, But Decidedly Unentertaining.

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.)

The Thunder celebrate Kendrick Perkins' crazy put-back buzzer-beater.

The Thunder celebrate Kendrick Perkins’ crazy put-back buzzer-beater.

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.

Kevin Durant's 36-point, 11-rebound double-double couldn't secure the win.

Kevin Durant’s 36-point, 11-rebound double-double couldn’t secure the win.

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.

Serge Ibaka's 15-point, 11-rebound double-double kept it close, but failed to secure the W.

Serge Ibaka’s 15-point, 11-rebound double-double kept it close, but failed to secure the W.

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.

Russell Westbrook's intensity will be heavily required throughout the remainder of the series. Say what you will about Westbrook, but he's the aggressor that Durant isn't.

Russell Westbrook’s intensity will be heavily required throughout the remainder of the series. Say what you will about Westbrook, but he’s the aggressor that Durant isn’t.

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.