A first round matchup so full of excitement, exceeding expectations and forcing four straight overtime games has left OKC trailing 3-2 against Memphis.
The Thunder failed to get past the Grizzlies in the second round of the playoffs last year, using the excuse that it was because they had to play without Russell Westbrook due to injury.
Well, Westbrook is back in action, so what’s OKC’s excuse this time? Lets take a look at what’s been brewing in this series.
Kevin Durant dominated Game 1 with 33 points, 13 of which came in the fourth quarter to lead the Thunder to a 100-86 victory.
His numbers were no surprise at all. He did lead the league in scoring this season and had the highest player efficiency rating.
But what stands out the most about this game was the Grizzlies resilience to erase most of a 25-point deficit. They were down 21 at halftime but stormed back to within two points with 8:45 left to go in the fourth. The Thunder responded, however, going on a 13-1 run to capture the win at home.
With home court advantage, the Thunder did what was expected and won Game 1 but surprisingly, they lost Games 2 and 5 at home and won only one game on the road.
Zach Randolph controlled Game 2, scoring 25 points to help Memphis defeat OKC 111-105 in overtime.
Nothing could stop the Grizzlies. Giving up a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter and losing Marc Gasol to foul trouble didn’t stop them from fighting back. That crazy four-point play by Durant and Kendrick Perkins sending the game to overtime wasn’t enough to stop them.
The Grizzlies’ resilience in the Game 3 was again too much for the Thunder.
Memphis blew another lead, this time by 17, to force another overtime but still found a way to come back.
Mike Conley scored five of his 20 points in overtime to hand OKC its second straight loss as the Grizzlies prevailed 98-95 to take a 2-1 series lead.
Randolph added 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists and completely outmatched Kendrick Perkins in the post, getting him into foul trouble.
Tony Allen played a solid first half and ended up with 16 points but it was his suffocating defense on Kevin Durant that stood out the most.
Durant missed all eight 3-point attempts and was 10 of 27 from the field and was 1-for-13 from at least 10 feet, his second-worst performance from 10 or more feet in his career.
Everyone has off shooting nights but Durant’s just came at a bad time.
Russell Westbrook was 9 of 26, though he grabbed 13 rebounds and the Thunder were flat in overtime hitting only 3 of 12 overall.
Like Durant in the previous game, Westbrook hit a 3-pointer and was fouled hard by Allen. His free throw tied the game at 85 with 26.6 seconds left and the game would eventually go to overtime.
In overtime, Allen tripped up Westbrook, who was sent to the line for three attempts with just under one second left. Westbrook hit the first, missed the second and intentionally hit the rim on the third attempt but Memphis would come out on top once again.
Reggie Jackson made Oklahoma City’s Game 4 win possible by putting up a personal playoff-best 32 points while Durant and Westbrook struggled through their worst scoring game of the series. They went a combined 11-for-45 with 15 points apiece.
As the Thunder blew a 14-point lead, the Grizzlies, of course, blew a third straight fourth-quarter lead themselves.
Jackson would seal the deal to lift the Thunder after making five straight points in the final minute of regulation to tie the game and hitting all six free throws in overtime.
Oklahoma City’s shot at a title depends on both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Well, duh.
But when those two are having an off night, the Thunder have no one else to consistently depend on to pick up the slack whereas the Grizzlies have a ton of role players.
Through four games, Durant was 12-for-41 when guarded by Tony Allen. He went 1-for-9 in Game 4 with Allen as his primary defender and 1-for-10 on catch-and-shoot shots, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
Will somebody remind Kevin Durant that he is 6’9”, 240 pounds and one of the best players in the league? For goodness’ sake, he’s allowing a 6’4”, 213 pound Tony Allen to shut him down.
Hey Durant, it’s called posting up. Why Durant isn’t using his size and length to his advantage is beyond me but he better start doing so in tonight’s game or else the Thunder can kiss their NBA Championship hopes goodbye.
As usual, Westbrook’s second half play in games has really hurt the Thunder also. His efficiency drops tremendously from the first half to the second.
Tweedledee and Tweedledum need to get it together.
In Game 5, the Grizzlies outscored the Thunder 15-7 in transition, despite Oklahoma City having nearly twice as many plays on the run.
Although Russell Westbrook had 30 points, 13 assists and 10 rebound, he made just 10 of 31 shots. Durant added 26 points on 10-for-24 shooting. The Thunder posted an awful field goal percentage of 39 percent.
Memphis held a 20-point lead in the third quarter and as you could’ve guessed, the Thunder cut the lead to six and finally took a 79-78 lead on a Durant 3-pointer.
Mike Miller scored 21 points and was on fire from beyond the arc, hitting 5-of-8 threes. Miller is known for his offensive attack from downtown and the fact that the Thunder have left him wide open on several occasions blows my mind.
Not only has OKC struggled to defend the paint all series, they have also failed to stop Zach Randolph. That dude is just a beast and nearly impossible to defend. He had his way in Game 5 with 20 points and 10 rebounds. The only way to try and stop him is with a double team but that leaves other guys wide open like Mike Conley who added 17 points.
While Westbrook makes some good plays like by stripping the ball away from Conley for a dunk with 4 seconds left to tie the game and force overtime, he also does nothing but harm the Thunder when he shoots the ball a lot and unfortunately that’s how he plays basketball.
But it’s really up to Kevin Durant to be more assertive and take over games down the stretch.
In overtime, Durant had the opportunity to tie the game and potentially force a second overtime with two free throw attempts. He made the first and right before he was about to shoot a second one, referee Joey Crawford took the ball from him and walked over to the scoreboard operator demanding him to make a change.
After the delay, Durant missed the second free throw and OKC would lose by 1 point.
Ok, lets break this down real quick, shall we? Durant shot 87 percent from the free throw line during the regular season. I don’t care if Delonte West is giving Durant a wet Willy during his free throw attempt or if J.R. Smith is in the process of untying his shoes. Durant NEEDS to make his free throws.
I mean, Michael Jordan was able to hit free throws with his eyes closed. Do you think for one second he would let Joey Crawford distract him from making one? Never in a million years.
It was no one else’s fault for Durant missing a free throw but his own. However, as one of the most potent teams in the NBA, finishing second in the Western Conference, a game shouldn’t even have to come down to free throws, let alone in a game against a 7-seed.
The fact that the Thunder even trailed by 20 points in the third quarter AND have needed four straight overtimes to try and win is enough to convince me that the Thunder have no chance of making it to the Finals even if they get passed the first round.
I’m not trying to downplay the Grizzlies’ performance by any means, but we all know that the Thunder are the better team, even though they aren’t playing like it.
Memphis is a tough squad with playoff experience and has proven game after game that they won’t go down without a war.
A combination of Durant playing soft, Westbrook playing like a lunatic and Thunder coach Scott Brooks not drawing up enough plays for Kevin Durant (or enough plays in general) is the perfect recipe for disaster.
Oklahoma City needs better floor spacing, ball movement and screening to help create more shots for Kevin Durant.
That’s not asking for too much and we all know the OKC is capable of completing those tasks.
If all goes according to plan, I say the Thunder win Game 6 tonight, forcing a Game 7 in Oklahoma City where they will flourish and advance to the second round.
Expect Kevin Durant to go off tonight with 40+ plus points.