Tag: Memphis Oklahoma city

Oklahoma City Thunder v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Four

As we all expected, Thunder needed Nick Collison to win

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Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Nick Collison….

Like the old Sesame Street game and song, “One of these things is not like the others.”

Collison may look out of place among those elite scorers, he averaged 21 minutes a game off the bench for the Thunder this past season. The classic veteran role players. But he fits in with the best of the Thunder on Sunday — not because he suddenly can shoot, but because his active defense on Zach Randolph was a key to the Thunder advancing to the conference finals. Where a bigger task may be awaiting him.

Single-game +/- stats can be deceptive, but the fact Collison was a +26 — the Thunder outscored the Grizzlies by 26 points in the 33 minutes he was on the floor — is pretty indicative of what he did.

“He just has a knack for making winning plays every time down court,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of Collison. “It doesn’t matter if it’s offense or defense, he just comes up with big offensive rebounds, he comes up with great stops — he had a charge tonight and I think he had a block or two (three actually).

“His rebounding and his toughness on Zach, who is one of the best low-post scorers in the game and he is relentless, and Nick challenged him possession by possession. And that is what he’s about.”

Defensively Collison bodied up tight on Randolph — Serge Ibaka tried to do that as well but Collison is stronger and not as easily moved off his spot. Collison had three first half blocks on Randolph and that was part of the key that took the Grizzlies main offensive weapon out of the game. By the fourth quarter the Grizzlies had stopped looking for Randolph.

Collison also had 12 rebounds, four on offense. Again, he was physical and able to push his way into the spaces he wanted. Collison also finished with 8 points, all of his shots coming right at the rim. You don’t see him trying to do too much, Collison stays within himself.

In the next series, Collison — the longest tenured member of the Thunder — Collison is one of only two players currently on the roster who made the move from Seattle (Durant is the other) — is going to be asked to defend Dirk Nowitzki for stretches. To push Dirk off his spots, to contest, to just make like difficult.

And if he can do that — as much as anyone slows Dirk — the Thunder’s best postseason run since the move may reach new heights.

NBA Playoffs: Does Durant dominate Game 7 for Thunder?

Oklahoma City Thunder v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Six
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Kevin Durant has played on big stages before. Just this past summer he led Team USA to gold in the World Championships for example.

But his first ever NBA Game 7 is maybe his biggest stage yet, and if the Thunder are going to advance they need more out of him.

With Tony Allen and Shane Battier hounding him, Durant is shooting 43.2 percent, both down from his 27.7 points per game on 46.2 percent during the season. He shot 35 percent from thee in the regular season, 30.2 percent this series. He was 3-of-13 in Game 6. In the regular season he dished out nearly 3 assists per game, in this series he has eight total through six games.

Every time he has shot this series, it has seemed a hand was in his face. Russell Westbrook has taken heat for his shooting too much and not passing enough (with some good reason at times), but the fact is Durant has not been open like he has been in the past. The Thunder need to get Durant better looks, create some room for him to catch-and-shoot or at least put the ball on the floor and get into the lane.

Look for the Thunder to find matchup ways to get Durant the ball where he wants it. That could involve more Nick Collison rather than Kendrick Perkins (Collison draws Marc Gasol out of the paint because you have to respect Collison’s midrange shot). Maybe we see some Durant as the four. Maybe a lot of things, but the Thunder need to get him going.

Memphis is going to stick with what worked in Game 6 — O.J. Mayo will start, providing some floor spacing to give Zach Randolph more room. Serge Ibaka (and at times Perkins) have to take that space away. They did from games two through five and Randolph was held in check. He dominated Game 6, especially late. The Thunder must double, deny and generally make sure someone else beats them.

That someone may be Mike Conley, who will be key for the Grizzlies as he runs the point.

Game 7s can make young players nervous, the pressure can lead to cautious and ugly basketball. The team that breaks through that hesitation first will have a huge advantage. If that is Westbrook attack and shooting too much, so be it. Somebody needs to grab hold of this game and just take it over. Both teams have a few guys who can do that, but the Thunder are at home and have the better wing athletes. This should be their time. If they are ready for it.

NBA Playoffs: Determined Grizzlies won’t go quietly

O.J. Mayo, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol celebrate after the Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Oklahoma Thunder in Memphis

From Games 2 through 5, Oklahoma City had kept the force of nature that can be Zach Randolph in check. They had packed the lane, threw multiple long defenders at him and never let him get comfortable. He shot just 32 percent in those four games.

But it all changed Friday night, starting with Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins putting shooter O.J. Mayo with the starters to spread out the Thunder defense and give Randolph a little more room to operate. He got going early and was even stronger as the game went on. It was a masterful performance from one of the best offensive big men in the game.

Randolph finished with 30 points on 22 shots and the Grizzlies won 95-83 to force a deciding Game 7 in the Western Conference semifinals on Sunday.

It seems corny to talk about a game won by heart and grit, which can often be the crutch of bad analysis. But I’m at a loss for another phrase to describe the Grizzlies’ second half. When a lot of teams just roll over — we’re looking right at you, Lakers — Memphis fought back. They executed better under pressure, something the Thunder have struggled with at times.

The Thunder made their plays in the first half and were up 10 at halftime. The Grizzlies offense got stagnant in the second quarter and missed jumpers led to Russell Westbrook and James Harden getting out in transition. The Thunder took their lead with Kevin Durant having just seven points, and you expected this to become a rout like the second half of Game 5.

But Shane Battier hit a 3-pointer right before halftime, and the Grizzlies came out on an 11-2 run to start the third quarter. And that was about grit and heart. About refusing to die. Memphis won the third quarter 28-14 as their shooters got hotter and more confident.

Meanwhile, Durant never got going, finishing with 11 points on 3-of-14 shooting. Battier, who has struggled to slow Durant this series, had a fantastic game.

Outside of Randolph, the Grizzlies didn’t light it up on offense — as a team they shot just 43.4 percent and averaged one point per possession. For some perspective, over the course of the season only three teams averaged less offense than one point per possession (Washington, Cleveland and Milwaukee).

But the Thunder were at 0.87 points per possession. They were 4-of-16 from three and 5-of-13 from 16 feet out to the arc – the jump shots were not falling. Westbrook (27 points) and Harden (14) had good games, but after that the rest of the Thunder struggled to score.

So it is off to Oklahoma for a Game 7. A game where Durant is fully capable of bouncing back and taking over. Or Randolph’s confidence could carry over to another huge game. Or both. And someone unexpected will invariably rise up.

This series has been a lot of fun, complete with improbable comebacks and thrilling overtimes. And now it all comes down to one game. This is going to be one of the highlights of these playoffs. You can just feel it.