The shorthanded Thunder have a lot to overcome this round. The Memphis Grizzlies have been playing like the most assertive team in the playoffs. The Thunder usually rely on talent to win games. But without Westbrook, they don’t have enough talent. So how have they fared in the first two games at Chesapeake Arena?
The Memphis Grizzlies clearly looked like the stronger team in the first three quarters of Game 1. But this is a 48-minute game of basketball. What you have accomplished in the first three quarters always has the ability to be erased. The Grizzlies gave too much of an edge to the Thunder in the 4th quarter of Game 1.
Kevin Durant made the 4th quarter his. It was the Kevin Durant show. He scored 12 of his game-high 35 points in the 4th quarter. K.D. topped that off with a silky-smooth pull-up jumper from 19 feet out. Tayshaun Prince did his best job of sticking with Durant. However, Durant found a way to create substantial space for himself throughout the 4th quarter.
Kevin Martin was a big reason OKC was able to sneak past the Grizzlies in Game 1. K-Mart stepped up big time with 25 points on the night. Martin was in the zone and he looked similar to the guy we have seen for most of his career. Not only did he score 25 points, but he shot a highly efficient 8-for-14 from the field.
Sometimes, Memphis does not have answers on the offensive end. When they are cold, it can be miserable. The Grizz played fairly consistent throughout the first three quarters. But in the 4th, they panicked from OKC’s pressure on defense and got sloppy with the ball.
Kevin Durant hit the game-winning jumper to lead the Thunder to a 93-91 victory. Reggie Jackson hit two free throws to give OKC a 93-90 lead. A foul was foolishly committed on Quincy Pondexter on his game-tying three point attempt. Unfortunately for Memphis, Pondexter felt too much pressure and missed the first free throw off the back rim. OKC was able to breathe a sigh of relief as Durant played hero.
The Memphis Grizzlies were not discouraged going into Game 2. They came out with even more poise than the previous game and set the tone by owning the offensive glass. From the start of the game, Memphis went inside to Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. They were successful and kept feeding the ball to the two big guys.
While this game was a fairly even contest throughout, the Grizzlies actually won the 4th quarter battle this time. They were positive that the Thunder would have to depend on Kevin Durant and they were fine with making other players beat them.
The Grizzlies made the 4th quarter a nightmare for OKC. Tony Allen was draped all over Kevin Durant and the Grizzlies brought a double team every time Durant penetrated. It was basically either a Durant score or a lost possession for the Thunder. Memphis welcomed Thabo Sefolosha and Reggie Jackson letting loose from deep. Outside of Durant, OKC could not connect on any shots.
On top of that, the Grizzlies’ offense was phenomenal. While OKC depended on only their superstar, the Grizzlies stuck with their five-man attack. Mike Conley was playing with sky-high confidence. Marc Gasol was making fantastic plays at the top of the key. Randolph continued to control the paint. Pondexter was settled in, hitting open shots from the corner.
The fact that OKC had a whole team to worry about allowed Conley to make some huge plays. I mentioned above that the Grizzlies sometimes struggle to make shots on offense. But when they find their offensive identity, every player on the court finds a way to be effective. Mike Conley is not known as a shooter but he takes what the defense gives him. Conley made two huge shots (a three and a long two) to put the game away. He finished just shorty of a triple-double, with an outstanding 26 points, ten rebounds, and nine assists.
Memphis’ 16 offensive rebounds weren’t too generous to the Thunder either. There was one point in the second half where the Grizzlies collected three straight offensive rebounds before finally scoring on their 4th attempt. But that is who the Grizzlies are. They rely on hard work and outstanding effort to win games. The Grizzlies clearly outworked the Thunder in the 4th quarter.
The Grizzlies were able to pull away in Game 2 despite Kevin Durant’s brilliant 36 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists. We now head to Memphis for Game 3 where they have not lost a playoff game yet. Their home crowd is riled up and ready to see some heavy duty action.
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