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.