Tag: Thunder Grizzlies

Memphis Grizzlies v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Seven

NBA Playoffs: Durant + Defense = Date with Dallas for Thunder


No doubt, Kevin Durant was special Sunday. In the biggest game of his NBA career he remained undaunted through a slow start and hit 11 of his last 16 shots on his way to 39 points. He played smart, used back-door cuts to get easy baskets, and once he got rolling everything fell.

But that’s not what won the Thunder Game 7 — it was their defense.

And they’re going to need more (and actually better) defense like that against Dallas. But for a night they can celebrate that defense and a 105-90 win that gave the Thunder a 4-3 series win and a trip to the conference finals.

Memphis, whether due to the tightness of the situation or the tightness of the Thunder defense (or likely a little of both), could not buy an outside shot in this game. On shots outside of 10 the Grizzlies shot just 34 percent. They were just 5-of-15 from three. (Stats via Hoopdata.)

That allowed the Thunder pack the paint with defenders and contest everything close to the basket, where the Grizzlies like to make their music. The Thunder had 11 blocked shots in the game. They had a hand up on everything. No quarter was given. The result there was the Grizzlies shooting 6-of-25 outside the restricted area out to 9 feet. (That makes it 29 percent total shooting for Memphis when they were outside the restricted area in this game.)

The Thunder defense bottled up Zach Randolph, who had just two shots inside the restricted area. Fantastic defense by Nick Collison off the bench helped hold Randolph to 2-of-9 shooting from 3 to 9 feet (Collison had three blocks in the first half). With his struggles the Grizzlies started to more and more go away from Randolph as the game wore on. Then, when he would get the ball back, you knew he was going to force up the shots because he wasn’t getting the touches he wanted, all of which made him easier to defend.

That opened the door for Durant to be the hero … although didn’t look like he was going to walk through it early on. He went 2-for-9 to start, but then he got two dunks on back cuts and lobs from Russell Westbrook, and that seemed to wake him up. He shot 11-of-16 the rest of the way.

In the later parts of the third the Thunder went on a 13-2 run that was a whole lot of Durant (with some James Harden thrown in), including Durant blocking a Mike Conley shot at one end then coming back and draining the three in transition. The Grizzlies could never recover from that.

Russell Westbrook, who took a lot of heat this series for at times shooting too much and passing to little, but he recorded a triple-double with 14 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds. Westbrook has this kind of game in him and he does it during the season, if inconsistently. But he did a great job of hitting Durant on back door cuts and he left the ball to him as a trailer in transition that led to a three. Westbrook can score almost at will, and there will be games the Thunder need that, but when he gets everyone involved like this the Thunder are almost unbeatable.

Harden was so hot his beard was about to catch fire. He and 17 points and hit 4-of-8 from three.

Sunday could be the kind of big, statement game from the Thunder that says they have arrived as contenders. But they will need to prove that against a well-rested Dallas team starting Tuesday night. There is no time to rest.

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NBA Playoffs: Memphis tries to prove Game 5 was a fluke

Memphis Grizzlies v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Two

Like the have not before these playoffs, the Oklahoma City Thunder asserted themselves in Game 5. They dominated the Memphis Grizzlies. Controlled the game from the middle of the second quarter on. Held Zach Randolph to 9 points. Thumped the tired Grizzlies good.

Was that a one game fluke, or have the Thunder arrived?

If Memphis wants to see a Game 7, two key things have to happen.

The first is Zach Randolph has to get going again. In Game 1 he was dominant, in Game 2 Serge Ibaka started taking away his space to operate when he caught the ball. Between Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins at times, the Thunder have held Randolph to 32 percent shooting in the last four games.

The Grizzlies got 24 points out of Randolph and Marc Gasol last game. If they Grizzlies are going to get back in this series, they will need closer to double that, and they need it to come efficiently.

The other thing Memphis needs is a better game from Mike Conley. The point guard who has played so well through the playoffs is 6-for-28 shooting his last two games. He has to knock down shots and he has to get the ball to Randolph and Gasol in positions they can be effective.

The Grizzles have to go back to what got them here — great play inside and some good pressure defense to create some turnovers.

The Thunder? Just more of the same will be just fine. Their defense has been key the last few games and when their offense clicked, well, blowout. Russell Westbrook 25 minutes last game, Kevin Durant just 31, they are rested. They will come out and try to put this game away early.

Memphis has to play in the paint. They have to get Tony Allen disrupting Durant. They have to have their best game of the season.

If they do, Sunday could be very interesting.

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.

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.