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.

NBA Playoffs: Will Grizzlies, Thunder players have anything left?

Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook drives to the basket by Memphis Grizzlies Marc Gasol and Shane Battier in Memphis

Game 4 between the Grizzlies and Thunder was exhausting. For me, as a fan, sitting on a couch. I can’t imagine what it took out of the players.

And for a crucial Game 5 with the series tied 2-2, that is where the questions start — who is going to have the most energy? Mental and physical. Can Memphis rebound from that kind of disappointing loss where they could have almost sewn up the series? Which team gets enough quality bench play so the starters can rest without the game slipping away?

After that, it comes back to some familiar themes for both teams.

The Thunder keep building big leads then giving them back, and they need to hold on because they can’t keep executing this poorly at the end and expect to get wins. Russell Westbrook has taken all the blame for the stretches where he takes a lion’s share of the shots and Kevin Durant goes hungry, but Durant gets blame here, too. He stands around and becomes a spectator, he doesn’t use his screens well. The entire Thunder offense goes stagnant, so Westbrook takes on his defender (whom he can beat) and the offense goes stagnant.

One really good solution for that — more James Harden. He is better at setting up teammates when running the offense than Westbrook. Guys work harder off the ball for him because they think they might be rewarded.

For Memphis, it comes back to the paint — they can’t just kind of win the battle in inside, they have to dominate it. They have dominated it against Kendrick Perkins, whose strength is strength but he has been undone by the quickness of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. But Nick Collison is quicker and the Thunder are just better when he is on the floor. Look for a lot of Collison, and the Grizzlies need to counter that.

But it can’t just be all inside — the Thunder are pulling back the defense and packing the paint and Memphis must make them pay for that. Mike Conley had a rough Game 4 (2-for-12 shooting) and if he does that again on the road the Grizzlies will be in a hole. O.J. Mayo also must have a good game on the road.

Also, both teams love to get easy points in transition, if one team gets a healthy advantage in fast break points it will be hard for the opponent to make up.

Stick around and watch this game after the Heat game. But make sure you get comfortable, you could be at it for a while.

NBA Playoffs: Thunder win the best game of these playoffs

Oklahoma City Thunder Kevin Durant drives to the basket by Memphis Grizzlies Zach Randolph and Shane Battier in Memphis

It was long. It was draining. It was sloppy. It was brilliant. It was physical. It had easy shots missed and impossible ones hit. It was entertaining. It was basketball you could not turn away from.

It was the best game of the playoffs so far.

And in the end — three overtimes later — Oklahoma City has evened its series with Memphis 2-2 after a 133-123 win.

For us fans, thank you Memphis and Oklahoma City.

It leaves us a tied series with this simple question — which team can bounce back better from this exhausting game? The team that does will win. Can Memphis bounce back from this kind of devastating loss? Did Oklahoma City leave everything they have on the court and can they play with the energy needed again in less than 48 hours? (The last three winners of a playoff triple overtime game lost the series.)

But oh, what a Game 4.

At first it was Oklahoma City that had to rally back — down 18 at one point in the second quarter — but they found a way to get turnovers and some fast break buckets.

Once again it looked like Oklahoma City was going to find a way to blow a lead — they were up by five points with 7:30 left in the fourth quarter.

And then they ran in to the same problem — a nine-minute stretch where Kevin Durant did not get a shot off. Russell Westbrook took a lot of heat for this the last few days around the Interwebs, and he deserves some of the blame. He can get tunnel vision on shots. But Durant becomes a spectator, not moving to get open, not doing his part to get into position. Coach Scott Brooks deserves part of the blame. Everyone deserves some blame for not getting James Harden the ball as a shot creator more in this situation because he is the best passer, best pure point guard they have. Harden was a beast in this game.

And all that takes away from what Memphis did. They created turnovers, they grabbed offensive boards (on 38.7 percent of their missed shots on the night).

And oh, did they make shots.

There was Mike Conley with a ridiculous three from 28 feet out over the outstretched arm of Kendrick Perkins with three seconds left to send it to the first overtime. (Yes, they should have fouled before the shot.)

There was rookie Greivis Vasquez — in only because Conley had fouled out — who matched Conley’s ridiculous three and upped it one with a leaning shot-put of a three to send it to a second overtime.

Through it all both teams were beating each other up inside — Nick Collison banging on Zach Randolph, Kendrick Perkins banging on everyone (but missing two key free throws that could have ended this game a lot earlier).

The thunder kept pulling away — Durant at one point hit a ridiculous catch-and-shoot three to put the Thunder up by 7 in one overtime. But O.J. Mayo answered with a three. And so it went, shot by shot, answer for answer.

Until in the third overtime, when the Grizzlies could not summon another answer to another Thunder run.

It was a roller coaster. Westbrook finished with 40 points, Durant had 35 on 20 shots, plus 13 rebounds. Harden had 19, Mayo 18.

It was amazing. Flat out stunning.

And the team that best recovers from it will win the series.