Tag: Oklahoma City Memphis

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: 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: Thunder try to avoid another breakdown

Oklahoma City Thunder v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Three
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Oklahoma City was in control. They had Game 3. Russell Westbrook was dishing (he had 12 assists) and the Thunder were rolling. They were controlling the Grizzlies in the paint enough to get the win.

But when Westbrook starts to do his Derrick Rose impression, the Thunder’s offensive balance falls apart. Memphis upped its defensive pressure and he seemed to try and dribble the clock out to eat up game time, but the Thunder’s shots ended up being contested jumpers. When Kevin Durant did get the ball he was out by the arc with the time running down. Westbrook and the entire Thunder team stopped attacking.

Meanwhile the Grizzlies got the ball inside and made shots. It’s what they do. They executed better than they had for the first three quarters. They played smart and hit shots.

And they sent it to overtime, where the Grizzlies won.

In this game, the Grizzlies know they need to play 48 minutes like they did for the final 10 minutes, but they will be able to approach that with more confidence. They need to again get some offensive balance from O.J. Mayo (he made OKC pay for its attention on Zach Randolph), and Randolph and Marc Gasol need to again have good games. Mayo had a good defensive stint against Westbrook in the fourth, that would be a big help if he can duplicate it.

Memphis cannot have just one good quarter, it needs a good game.

And all of that might not matter if the Thunder are playing up to their potential. This is a team learning how to be champions, and that comes with some hard lessons. Like not going away from your offense at the end of games, keeping your foot on the gas. The Grizzlies cannot stop Durant if he gets the ball in good position (although Tony Allen has done a solid job), they cannot stop Westbrook when he is attacking but also is willing to set up teammates. The Thunder can stop themselves.

If the Thunder can limit turnovers and attack the basket, they may be able to even this series. But it will not be easy. You become a champion by having to get better with every test. If that’s where the Thunder see themselves, there are lessons they need to learn from this series. And they need to start applying them now.

Kendrick Perkins gets some team meeting Karma in Game 2

Thunder's Durant gets a pat on the head from teammate Perkins after their Western Conference NBA basketball playoffs against the Nuggets in Oklahoma City

We only hear about the players-only meetings that work. They happen plenty around the NBA — the Cavaliers had them during their record losing streak — and they don’t usually work. But when they do, those meetings get a disproportional amount of credit.

That brings us to the tale of Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Durant, as told by Marc Spears at Yahoo.

After watching the Memphis Grizzlies batter his Oklahoma City Thunder in the opener of the teams’ second-round series, Kendrick Perkins(notes) knew something needed to change. So he encouraged Kevin(notes) to gather the team together … and watch the game again.

Durant took Perkins’ suggestion and arranged for a players-only dinner at his house on Monday night. The team dined on a Thanksgiving-worthy spread prepared by Durant’s personal chef and watched every minute of OKC’s disheartening loss to the Grizzlies. The players stopped the video at times to discuss specific breakdowns. By the end of the evening, they were in agreement on what needed to be done to improve.

I’m pretty sure Scotty Brooks had some ideas about what needed to be done to improve, too.

But maybe the meeting helped supply some needed defensive energy and an edge of desperation. The Thunder did play harder. Serge Ibaka took away Zach Randolph’s room to operate, the Thunder pushed back and they evened the series at 1-1. Still a long way to go, but the Thunder looked like the Thunder in Game 2. Now we see how the Grizzlies adjust.

Maybe Memphis should have a team meeting….

NBA Playoffs: The Thunder bounce back

Memphis Grizzlies v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Two

The Thunder needed a win on Tuesday night, and they got one, 111-102 over the Grizzlies. The Thunder got out to an early lead against the Grizzlies and never looked back, and were able to prevent themselves from having to go into Memphis facing an 0-2 deficit.

The key to the game was the Thunder’s defensive work on Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, who absolutely torched the Thunder from outside and under the basket in Game 1. In Game 2, the two big men combined to shoot 0-5 at the rim, and only shot 2-9 on mid-range jump shots. If the Grizzlies can continue to keep Memphis’ gigantic frontline from doing too much damage against them in this series, there’s a very good chance they will move on to the conference finals.

On the offensive side of things for the Thunder, both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had the kind of performances you expect from them, combining for 50 points on 38 field goal attempts. However, the story of the game for the Thunder may have been their bench play. James Harden poured in 21 points off the bench, and Eric Maynor splashed in three of his four three-point attempts on his way to 15 points. We already know that the Thunder’s best players are better than the Grizzlies’ best players — if the Thunder can play with more depth than the Grizzlies, they’ll be in great shape.

After two games, the key to this series appears pretty simple. If the Grizzlies can control the paint on offense, they can win. If the Thunder can shut down Randolph and Gasol, they will have a major advantage. Memphis got what it wanted — a split in Oklahoma City. Now it’s up to the Thunder to go into Memphis, keep the Grizzly bigs under control, and get home-court advantage back.