Tag Archives: Tony Allen

Sales Rack Shopping: The Thunder and the buy-out market

 

tony allen corey brewer

The Oklahoma City Thunder head into the March 1st buy-out deadline with an empty roster spot and several needs. Before we head any further into this article, there are a few things you might need to know about the buy-out market. First off, no team is acquiring a superstar via the buy-out market. In fact, it’s always questionable whether the player being obtained will even be that much of a difference maker. Buy-out signings are usually veterans the acquiring team hopes will make a small incremental difference in the positive direction for and during a playoff run.

For the Thunder, their recent buy-out signings over the past few seasons have been Norris Cole, Nazr Mohammed, Caron Butler, and Derek Fisher. These were veterans that weren’t necessarily useless, but also weren’t game changers moving forward. Fisher filled a role as a back-up point guard during the Finals run of 2012. Butler was important in the first round series against the Memphis Grizzlies in 2014, but his importance decreased with each successive series. Mohammed was more of a locker room/veteran presence during Durant’s final season in Oklahoma City. And last season, Cole was brought in be a better option at back-up point guard than Semaj Christon, but neither totally worked out.  Continue reading Sales Rack Shopping: The Thunder and the buy-out market

Advertisements

NTTB Podcast (Episode 26) – Quiet Trade Deadline

IMG_4109On Episode 26 of the NTTB podcast, we discuss the following topics:

  • Trade Deadline Recap
  • Why didn’t the Thunder make a move?
  • A look at the trades made by the Cavs and Lakers.
  • Buyout Market
  • Who’s Available
  • Did Sam Presti drop the ball?
  • PG comments
  • Sneakerhead talk – All-Star game edition
  • A Look at the Standings

Intro/Outro music provided by OSC Productions

Thank you for listening. We will be doing a podcast once a week. If you have any Thunder or NBA related questions, make sure you hit us up on Twitter (@alexroig_NTTB or @Montero_A13).

We are on ITunes under the NTTB Podcast. Make sure you leave us a 5-star review if you can. As always, Thunder Up!

Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 6 of 82)

reggie jackson tony allen thunder grizzlies

  • When: Friday, 07 November 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

The Oklahoma City Thunder come into Friday night’s match-up against the Memphis Grizzlies at 1-4. A far cry from the number 2 seeded team they were in the playoffs last season. Don’t let the record fool you, though. Yes, injuries have bitten the team hard, but in that stead, a champion’s heart has started to emerge. Even though the team has fluctuated between 7-8 healthy players, the Thunder have been in every game heading into the 4th quarter except one. That is a testament to the players’ wills and to the coaching staff for having the team prepared. With that said, the season stops for no team and continues on.

The Thunder vs. Grizzlies match-up is a rivalry that has been building for the past few seasons. Both teams started their ascension to the top of the Western Conference around the same team, with the Thunder having gone a little bit further in that time span. Last season, the Thunder won the season series 3-1, but nearly got ousted by the Grizzlies in the first round. That playoff match-up was one for the ages with Games 2-5 being decided in overtime. The series featured game-saving 4-point plays, epic 4th quarter comebacks, super-nova’ed bench players, and Perkins hitting a game-tying put back to send one of the games to overtime.

The Opponent

allen randolph gasol conley grizzlies

The Grizzlies come into the game with a 5-0 record, boasting the best defense in the league. They allow a league low 86.2 points per game and are 2nd in Defensive Rating. The offense, while not high scoring, is one of the better half-court offenses in the league. Mike Conley continues to play his part as “most underrated point guard in the league.” With per game averages of 15.4 points, 6.6 assists, and 1.4 steals, Conley continues to be one of the most consistent point guards in the league. Up front, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol make up one of the most formidable front court duos in the league. Their size and skill in the post creates problems for most teams. On the wing, Courtney Lee is currently shooting an unsustainable 70% from 3-point territory and Tony Allen is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league (just ask Kevin Durant). The Grizzlies’ bench is veteran-laden, featuring Vince Carter, Quincy Pondexter, Kosta Koufos, and Beno Udrih.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Memphis Grizzlies

  • PG – Mike Conley
  • SG – Courtney Lee
  • SF – Tony Allen
  • PF – Zach Randolph
  • C – Marc Gasol

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Reggie Jackson
  • SG – Jeremy Lamb
  • SF – Lance Thomas
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Pace – The Grizzlies play at one of the slower paces in the league. They take their time, look for efficient shots, and keep turnovers to a minimum. Although the Thunder don’t have the horses to run like they normally would, a quicker pace may be advantageous to them in this game. If the Thunder play at the Grizzlies’ pace, they may play into the opponent’s hands (paws?).

2. Perimeter shooting big men – The Grizzlies love to pack the paint and dare you to shoot jumpers. Their anchor on the interior is Gasol, the 2012-13 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. But a line-up with any two of Serge Ibaka, Lance Thomas, or Nick Collison, who can do damage from the perimeter, could take Gasol and Randolph out of the comfort zone of the interior and open up driving lanes for Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, and Sebastian Telfair.

Jeremy Lamb

3. Jeremy Lamb – This will likely be Lamb’s first game of the season. It will be interesting to see how Lamb reacts, not only to being one of the primary offensive options on the team, but also to having no restrictions or pressure on him. Even if he shoots awful, there is no one behind him in the depth chart to take his place.

Five Thoughts from the Memphis Series

durant ibaka westbrook thunder

The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 120-109 on Saturday to move onto the 2nd round of the playoffs. But before we move on, here’s 5 thoughts about the series that was.

1. The Overtimes and the plays leading up to them.

Four consecutive overtime games. Let that sink in for a minute. Your adrenaline pumps and heart races for one overtime game. But four…..in a row. The life span of the average Oklahoman (and Memphian, for that matter) probably dropped by about 2.5 years in this series. But the overtimes only tell half of the story in those four games.

The mad dashes that led to the overtimes were even more impressive. Here’s a recap of the major plays that led to the 5th period in those games:

Game 2: Set-up – Thunder down by 5 with 18 seconds to go.

  • Fall away 3-pointer by Durant in the corner while being fouled by Marc Gasol. Free throw good. Thunder down 1.
  • Free throw by Mike Conley. Grizzlies up 2 with 12 second left.
  • Russell Westbrook 3-point miss rebounded by Kendrick Perkins who goes up for a put-back with no time on the clock. Tied game. And on to overtime.

Game 3: Set-up – Thunder down by 17 with 7:30 minutes left in the 4th quarter. Thunder go on a 17-0 run to tie the game at 81 with 57 seconds left.

  • Tony Allen lay-up to put the Grizzlies up by two with 45 seconds.
  • Tony Allen steal and lay-up puts the Grizzlies up by 4 with 33 seconds left.
  • Russell Westbrook 4-point play ties the game at 85 with 26 seconds left.
  • Each team misses their finals shots. And on to overtime.

Game 4: Set-up – Thunder down by 5 with 1:20 left, after starting the quarter with a 12 point lead.

  • Reggie Jackson (the only effective Thunder player the entire night) launches (and makes) a step-back three with 59 seconds left. Thunder down by two.
  • After stealing a pass off of Beno Udrih, Durant passes to Jackson who runs off of a pick and roll and scores on a floater with 30 seconds left to tie the game.
  • After a mad scramble on the defensive end in which the Grizzlies had 2 opportunities to tie the game, Jackson ends up with the ball with 4 seconds left, but inexplicably heaves a 60 footer that bounces inbounds as the clock expires. And on to overtime.

Game 5: Set-up – Thunder down by two after the first of Tony Allen’s two free throws goes down with 30 seconds left. (Of note: The Thunder have no timeouts left)

  • Allen misses the 2nd free throw, but Tayshaun Prince gets the offensive rebound. After almost getting the ball stolen, Memphis calls a time out.
  • After the time out, Mike Conley dribbles at the top of the key. With the shot clock running down, Conley makes a move towards the basket, but Westbrook reaches across Conley’s body, knocks the ball loose, and takes it the other way for a game-tying fast break dunk. And on to overtime.

In all honesty, the overtimes proved to be a bit anti-climatic in comparison to those crazy final minutes in the fourth quarters.

2. Interior Defense

When you play the Grizzlies, the one thing that has to be on point is your interior defense. If you don’t have a set of defensive bigs that can combat what Memphis throws at you, then you might as well pack it up. Last season, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol bore through the Thunder’s interior defense like a hot knife through butter. It was so much of an embarrassment, that Kendrick Perkins felt the need to apology for his play after the series. But this time around, Perkins, Ibaka, and Steven Adams proved up to the task, essentially neutralizing the Grizzlies’ biggest offensive strength.

perkins jackson ibaka gasol thunder grizzlies

In last season’s playoff series, Gasol and Randolph shot 68/146 (47%). In this playoff series, the interior duo for Memphis shot 89-220 (40%). Everybody talks about the struggles that Westbrook and Durant experienced during the series, but equally as damning for their team, was the struggles that Gasol and Randolph had with scoring. And once Durant and Westbrook got going again in Games 6 and 7, it was too difficult for the the Memphis duo to keep up, especially with Randolph being suspended for the final game.

3. The Role Players

Many people wondered why Caron Butler decided to sign with the Thunder, instead of with the two-time champion Miami Heat. If Butler was title chasing, the easiest route would have been to latch on with Miami and probably be a 9th man for them. But Tuff Juice probably saw an opportunity with the Thunder to not only compete for a championship, but also be a regular part of the rotation.

Many people like to label Butler as a champion since he was a member of the Dallas Mavericks team that won the championship in 2011. What many people fail to mention is that Butler had a knee injury mid-season, and didn’t participate in any games for the Mavericks in the playoffs that season. Yes, he got a ring, but I wonder if he feels like that ring hardly holds any weight. Pride can easily turn happiness into a question mark that stays on the mind.

So, when Butler’s number was called on to start in place of an ineffective Thabo Sefolosha for Game 6, he showed that he was ready for this moment. He only scored 7 points in that game, but the effect of Butler as a perimeter threat, opened up the lanes enough for Westbrook and Durant to get back in their groove.

butler westbrook jackson thunder

Reggie Jackson has the hardest job in the world. He has to be the main facilitator and scorer on a bench unit that is about as hot and cold as it gets. Then he has to be the third option on the floor with Durant and Westbrook. If he does something bad during his time on the floor with the superstar duo, then the spot light shines on him. But if he does something good, then it probably had to do with the fact that Durant and Westbrook took so much of the defense’s attention which allowed Jackson to have an open lane or a wide open shot.

Then Game 4 happened. I’ve never seen a situation where two alpha males completely give the reins to the game over to somebody other than themselves. A lot of times, Durant and Westbrook are like the Mike Lowery and Marcus Burnett of the NBA: “We ride together, we die together, bad boys for life”. But in this one instance, whether it was their own insecurities in their play or a new confidence in another player not seen since the Harden days, Durant and Westbrook allowed Jackson to take over the game and in the end, win it for them. In reality, Jackson saved the season with his mini-explosion in Game 4.

4. Durant and Westbrook returning to form

Probably the biggest narrative of this series was the slump that both Durant and Westbrook faced in the Games 2-5. Without an unexpected career game from Jackson, the series would have probably been done in 5 games, much like last season. In those 4 games, the duo shot 73-209 from the field. That is a whooping 35% for two All-NBA players. Many media member started playing the Westbrook vs. Durant angle to the point that Westbrook felt the need to address it in an interview after Game 3.

durant westbrook allen conley thunder grizzlies

Then the Oklahoman decided to print one of the dumbest headlines since the Chicago Tribune declared Thomas E. Dewey the winner of the 1948 Presidential election. Mr. Unreliable. A name that describes many people, namely deadbeat dads, parole violators, and teenagers. Not a name that describes Kevin Durant, the basketball player. If anything, he’s been Mr. Reliable his entire career. The attempted explanation and subsequent apology explained what the headline itself was trying to convey, but the damage had already been done to the newspaper.

Durant took it in stride, but you could tell that the headline perplexed him a bit. Great players always play their best when the cards are stacked against them. Down 3-2 with an elimination game in Memphis, Durant and Westbrook slowed their games down a bit, and started playing their brand of basketball. In Games 6 and 7, the pair averaged 60.5 points, 18.5 rebounds, and 12.5 assists per game on 54/53/88 shooting.

5. The Wake-Up Call

The Thunder needed this kick in the rear end. They slept walked through the final month of the season, and probably had this aura about them that they could turn it on or off at any point in the playoffs. But this season’s playoffs were a bit different. The 7th seeded Grizzlies were probably more of a 3 or 4 seed, were it not for injuries and having to play in the tough Western Conference.

But, the name of the game is surviving and advancing, and the Thunder did just that. If the Thunder are fortunate enough to rack up 12 more victories, they should look back on this series and appreciate the fact that Memphis made them work so hard to get to Round 2.

Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Game 7 Preview

gasol ibaka thunder grizzlies

  • When: Saturday, 03 May 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Game 7. Those are the only 2 words you need to know about this game. Win or go home for both teams. Thankfully we have home court advantage. Game 6 was more what I expected to see from this team throughout this first round match-up. If Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook would have played 10% better in Games 2-5, this would’ve been a 5 game series. Instead, they struggled and allowed the Grizzlies to win three of four games that went to overtime.

Then the headline happened.

Durant doesn’t need motivation. There are some players that are self-motivated. Motivated by success. Motivated by legacy. Motivated by the hate to lose. That’s Durant. He’s been that way since day one. But sometimes, stupid headlines can piss you off to the point where it appears like motivation. If having your back against the wall wasn’t motivation enough, then this headline probably served as a accelerant, not only for Durant, but also for the entire team (coaches included).

Game 6 is more the pace that I expected to see from the team. Russell Westbrook playing a smart game, Serge Ibaka controlling the paint, Reggie Jackson giving what was needed when he was in the game, and Durant being his MVP self. More importantly, though, nothing came easy for the Grizzlies. The Thunder completely iced any pick and roll and the Grizzlies were not up to the task from the perimeter.

3 Keys to the Game

1. Adjustments – Oklahoma City made them in Game 6. The Grizzlies are being forced to make them in Game 7. The Zach Randolph suspension not only throws a wrench in the Grizzlies’ plans, but also in the Thunder’s plans. What do the Grizzlies plan to do? Will they start small with James Johnson or Mike Miller or will they remain big with either Kosta Koufos or Ed Davis? If the Grizzlies go small, expect to see Perkins’ minutes go down extensively. If the Grizzlies go big, business as usual.

2. Injured Bears – Randolph and Nick Calathes suspended. Mike Conley has a strained hamstring that he says would have kept him on the sidelines if this was a regular season game. Tony Allen is questionable because of migraines associated with an injured eye suffered in Game 6. To all of this, I say, poppycock. To me, all this information is lip service. Conley and Allen will play and will leave it all on the floor.

allen jackson westbrook ibaka thunder grizzlies

3. Pace – The biggest difference in Game 6 from Games 2-5, was pace. The Thunder pushed the ball and had the Grizzlies on skates all night. We’ll probably see a lot more small ball from the Grizzlies in this gam due to the Randolph suspension. But, it won’t be new to the Grizzlies. The dirty secret about the Randolph suspension is that the Grizzlies rarely played with Z-Bo in the 4th quarters of games. Gasol is a better big to have in small ball line-ups and it showed many times late in games in this series.

Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Game 5 preview

reggie jackson thunder

  • When: Tuesday, 29 April 2014 at 8:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

This series has been all about perspective. The Oklahoma City Thunder run the Grizzlies out of the gym in Game 1 and everyone one wondering if Memphis will win a game in the series. Then the Thunder lose Games 2 and 3 in crushing fashion and the national media (a.k.a. the vultures) start to circle around the Thunder’s apparent rotting carcass. Then they win Game 4 in the same nail biting, heart attack-inducing fashion as the last two games, and the pendulum swings once again.

Here’s the reality though. Nothing much has changed since halftime of Game 1. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are struggling. The bench, up until Reggie Jackson’s Game 4 explosion, has been abhorrent. And Tony Allen is still, somehow, blowing up every pass that comes his way. Since the beginning of the 2nd half in Game 1, the Grizzlies have outscored the Thunder 356-351. But with the Game 4 victory, the Grizzlies are now the ones facing the pressure of having to win two of the next three games on the road. I love back and forth series, but I dislike the pendulemic perspectives that come from them.

3 Keys to the Game

1. The Little Things – Other than Jackson’s Harden-like coming out party, Game 4 was won on the boards and at the free throw line. The Thunder outrebounded the Grizzlies 58-49 in that game, with 20 of those being offensive boards. And the Thunder shot 90% from the charity stripe as opposed to the 56.5% put up by the Grizzlies. They say every possession counts in the playoffs, but more than anything, especially in a close game, it’s the little things that become the deciding factors between winning and losing.

2. Reginald Shon Jackson – First off, you don’t see many people that spell Shon in its correct phonetic fashion. I’ve seen Sean, Shawn, Shaun, but never Shon. Must be an Italian thing (he was born in Italy, if you didn’t know). There are probably a lot more people in the world today that know those two factual tidbits now, that didn’t know them three days ago. Jackson not only saved the game for the Thunder, but he may have saved the season and he may have saved Scott Brooks’ job. If the Thunder would’ve gone down 3-1, it may have been a hole that would’ve proven too difficult to climb out of.

So, which Reggie do we get for Game 5? The Thunder NEEDED Jackson to do what he did on Saturday. It’s impressive when Durant and Westbrook are basically handing you the steering wheel to the game, and you get the job done with ice water in your veins. But let’s not forget the horrible performances in Games 1-3 (5.0 pts/4.3 rebs/3.0 asts on 15.8% shooting (and 0/6 from 3-point territory). The Thunder would love Game 4 Reggie every game. But, if Reggie sticks to his regular season averages of 13/4/4, the Thunder should be okay.

durant thunder grizzlies

3. Durant, Westbrook, and Milk Cartons – It’s gotten so bad these last couple of games, that I went to the local milk packaging plant and bought a “Missing” advertisement. It reads:

Missing

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s Shooting Stroke

If found, please contact Sam Presti at 281-330-8004.

A guy named Mike Jones might answer.

Their struggles have been the main reason why the last three games have been so close. If these two guys shoot anywhere close to 42%, these three games aren’t even close.

Scott Brooks: It Might Be Time For A Change

scott brooks durant thunder

If you look at the recent history of the game, every great player who has won a championship needed a championship level coach to push him to the promise land. And by great player, I mean the transcendent players of their generation. In recent memory, those players have been Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James. Each of these players needed to go, not only through adversity, but also through a coaching change before they led a team to the championship. Tim Duncan should also be included in the list, but he has played for the same coach his entire career while racking up 4 titles in the process.

Kevin Durant, of the Oklahoma City Thunder, is paving his path towards being a transcendent player. He is on his way to winning his 1st MVP, has won 4 scoring titles before the age of 26, and leads a team that has been a championship contender for the past three season. He has a top 10 player by his side in Russell Westbrook, a versatile big man that can block shots and hit mid range jumpers in Serge Ibaka, and a great 6th man in Reggie Jackson. With all this at Durant’s disposal, why is it that the Thunder are struggling with their first round opponents, the Memphis Grizzlies?

The answers to that question are like pieces of a puzzle. When you analyze everything, you’ll see that many factors are contributing to the Thunder’s struggles in the first round. First off, Memphis is not your run of the mill 7th seed. The Grizzlies struggled out the gate due to Marc Gasol’s knee injury, but finished the season on a 33-13 tear that brought them up to the 7th seed. Without Gasol’s injury, this team probably finishes in the top 5 in the Western Conference. The next factor is that Memphis is built for the playoffs. They are a half-court oriented offense with one of the best defenses the league has to offer. And, their core is playoff-tested and has been together for at least 4 seasons. But these factors are more a microcosm of who the Grizzlies are.

It’s what the Thunder are doing (or not doing) that is affecting them in this series. Oklahoma City is a team that can play a variety of ways, but they’re at their best when they are running in transition and causing havoc in the paint through penetration. But those things tend to get muddled in the playoffs. Teams protect the ball more and defenses make it  a point to protect the paint. Less turnovers means less transition opportunities. More defenders in the paint means less avenues to get to the basket. Unfortunately for the Thunder, the Grizzlies are great at two things: protecting the ball and defending the paint.

scott brooks westbrook thunder

But with players as dynamic as Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, and Jackson, the Thunder should not be struggling as bad as they are in this series. Part of that could be attributed to bad luck as both Durant and Westbrook seem to be in shooting funks. Part of that could be the Grizzlies’ defense, which packs the paint and dares you to beat them with perimeter shots, of which the Thunder aren’t making. But a lot of the Thunder’s problem has to do with scheming (or lack thereof), and that falls squarely on Scott Brooks.

Unfortunately, this has always been the knock on Brooks. The lack of an offensive system rarely rears it’s head for the Thunder, except when the transition faucet is turned off, the paint is packed, and the shots aren’t falling. It’s understandable that you would have an iso-oriented system when your two best players thrive in isolation situations. But it’s also important to have a system in place when the defense keys in on those two players. And that’s what is severely lacking for the Thunder in this series.

It’s almost asinine that Brooks, with the weapons he has at his disposal and the amount of time he’s had those weapons, would never have created a fail-safe offensive system that would play, not only to the strengths of his stars, but also to the strength of the role players around them. Brian Windhorst of ESPN tweeted during Game 3, “Grizzlies know all of OKC’s plays. When the 1st option is taken away the Thunder often just shut down their offense.” If anything, last season should have been a sign that the team needs an offensive system outside of superstar iso-plays. When Westbrook went down, it should have signaled to Brooks that a change was needed in order to prevent what happened in last season’s playoffs. Instead, with Durant and Westbrook both in tow, it seems as if Brooks has defaulted even deeper into superstar isolation mode.

It’s either that, or those two superstars aren’t trusting their teammates, which leads them to take it upon themselves to try and save the day. Whether Brooks is heeding both players to look for teammates more or not, this still goes back to Brooks. If isolation ball isn’t working, get onto your superstars and tell them to run the offense. Oh yeah, I forgot. There is no offense. Ibaka, one of the best release valves in the league and probably the best target for a pick and roll outside of Durant and Westbrook is getting completely frozen out of the offense in the fourth quarter and overtime. Jackson, who up until Game 4, was struggling mightily, was basically benched for games 2 and 3. Brooks could have and should have incorporated those two into the offense even more, especially in Games 2 and 3. Instead, the Grizzlies defenders keyed in on the superstar duo and made it extremely difficult for them to get into their sets, let alone get off a good shot.

durant collison allen gasol randolph grizzlies thunder

The other transcendent players I talked about in the opening had to endure coaching changes that brought about success. Michael Jordan went from Doug Collins to Phil Jackson. Kobe Bryant went from Kurt Rambis to Phil Jackson for his first three championships and from Rudy Tomjanovich to Phil Jackson for his next two championships. LeBron James went from Mike Brown to Erik Spoelstra for his two championships. The one constant between these two coaches is that they had an offensive system to fall back on. They had great players, but also a system that helped them out offensively if the opponent was exclusively targeting the star player. Jackson had the triangle offense and Spoelstra has a system that spaces the floor for James, Wade, and Bosh to operate.

It’s especially frustrating when you compare Brooks to Spoelstra. Both are young coaches in their first head coaching gigs who were basically gift-wrapped super-teams. Spoelstra found a way to develop a system that played to the strengths of all his players. Meanwhile, Brooks is still relying on the greatness of a couple players to get him out of jams. Westbrook and Durant are good enough to win you enough games to stay employed.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think Brooks is a bad coach. He’s done a great job in developing the talent OKC was loaded with over the years. He’s done a great job managing egos and developing the culture the Thunder are now known for. But as an X’s and O’s coach, I think Brooks has hit his ceiling. Just like players eventually reach a point where they no longer improve, I think Brooks has gotten to that point with this team. I’ve always said that Brooks is a great coach to lead us to the mountain and maybe even to get us halfway up the mountain, but it will take another coach to get us over the mountain. If Durant and Westbrook are ever to get over the hump, they may have to do it with another coach at the helm. I hope I’m wrong, but I’ve experienced too much of Brooks to think otherwise.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Memphis Grizzlies Game 3 preview

NBA: Playoffs-Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder

Going in, we knew this would be a tough series. Memphis has their short-comings, but they do two things extremely well that make them a tough out: they play defense and they play as a team. We’ve seen both of these qualities exhibited in the first two games. Even when Memphis got down by 22 at the half in Game 1, they never abandoned their principles and pulled within two points before tiring out at the end. In Game 2, Memphis’ defense made life for the Thunder miserable, but it was Memphis’ offense that came alive. The team that scored 96.1 points per game in the regular season, erupted for 111 points in the second game. Many will look to the Thunder’s offense for adjustments in Game 3, but the key will be the Thunder’s defensive adjustments.

3 Defensive Adjustments

1. Go Over the Screens – Of all the teams to go over on screens in the Western Conference playoffs, this would be the best team to do this against. Mike Conley and Ben Udrih are not willing 3-point shooters and are more comfortable on the move towards the basket. But instead, the Thunder keep going under the screens and allowing the Memphis guards to move towards the basket. This causes the defense to collapse and puts it on skates. If the Thunder perimeter defenders are able to stay in front of the drives, this will go a long way in preventing the slew of points in the paint.

westbrook conley grizzlies thunder

2. Don’t Lose Your Man – The Thunder got caught ball watching a couple times in the game, and it cost them. Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince aren’t necessarily great offensive players, but if you give them an open look near the basket, they’ll make it a high percentage of the time.

3. Rebounding – One of the big adjustments the Grizzlies made was getting back on defense after every shot in order to stop transition. If the Grizzlies are going to do that, then the Thunder cannot allow them to get 12 offensive boards, three of which were in the overtime period and led to four extra points.

3 Offensive Adjustments

1. Bench – If the Thunder are to win, they are going to need more than 14 points from their vaunted bench unit (which consequently, was the same amount of points that Beno Udrih scored). Derek Fisher and Caron Butler only combined for one 3-pointer on four attempts and Reggie Jackson looked like a shell of himself. Also, Steven Adams would have probably helped on the big boys from Memphis. Hopefully, the bench comes out more aggressive in Game 3.

durant randolph allen grizzlies thunder

2. Spacing – The Grizzlies like to crowd the floor with their big men. The Thunder were caught too many times either having their pick and rolls iced or picking up their dribble and not being able to find their intended target (usually Durant). The key will probably be Ibaka. If Ibaka can hit that mid-range jumper, it may cause the defender to lay off the guard and stay on Ibaka. Once that happens, Durant, Westbrook, or Jackson will have the space necessary to operate in the paint.

3. Kendrick Perkins Pick – You want to get Tony Allen off Kevin Durant? Have him meet Kendrick Perkins. Nothing malicious, but enough to send a message.

Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder series preview

NBA: Playoffs-Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder

So it’s set. First up on Oklahoma City’s platter is the team that knocked them out of last season’s playoffs, the Memphis Grizzlies. It took a bit longer than expected for the playoff seeding to be decided, but in the end, it was almost manifest destiny for these two teams to meet in the playoffs once more. It’s like fate didn’t really like how the series played out last season (you know, no Russell Westbrook and all), so she decided to initiate a do-over.

Fate has a habit of matching the Thunder against opponents they have a history with. Last season it was James Harden-led Houston Rockets in the first round (and the subsequent Patrick Beverly fallout). Two seasons ago, it was the Dallas Mavericks, who had beaten the Thunder the previous season in the Western Conference Finals and the Los Angeles Lakers, in a metaphorical passing of the torch.

Regular season series

Wins in the regular season don’t always paint a clear picture as to how a series will play out. Many variables exist during the season that do not exist during the playoffs. Scheduling, fatigue, and sample size are all factors that come into play during the regular season, but have little to no bearing during the playoffs. But there are always factors within a season series that are highly applicable to the playoff series.

westbrook conley thunder grizzlies

The Thunder won the season series against the Grizzlies 3-1. Injuries played a major role in the outcome of a couple of the games. In the first game, a 116-100 OKC victory, the Grizzlies were without Marc Gasol, who was out with a knee injury. In the second game, a 90-87 Memphis victory, the Thunder were without Russell Westbrook, while the Grizzlies had their full complement of players.  In the 3rd game, both team were without their starting point guards, but the Thunder prevailed 86-77. The fourth game, a 113-107 OKC victory, saw both teams basically at full strength (even though Kendrick Perkins was out and Thabo Sefolosha only played 4 minutes) and is probably more indicative as to how the series will go.

Schedule

  • Game 1 – Saturday, 19 April 2014 at 8:30 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Game 2 – Monday, 21 April 2014 at 7:00 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Game 3 – Thursday, 24 April 2014 at 7:00 PM CST (FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN)
  • Game 4 – Tuesday, 26 April 2014 at 8:30 PM CST (FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN)
  • Game 5 – Tuesday, 29 April 2014 TBD (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)*
  • Game 6 – Thursday, 01 May 2014 TBD (FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN)*
  • Game 7 – Saturday, 03 May 2014 TBD (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)*

* If necessary

Probable Starting Line-ups

Memphis Grizzlies

  • PG – Mike Conley
  • SG – Courtney Lee
  • SF – Tayshaun Prince
  • PF – Zach Randolph
  • C – Marc Gasol
  • Bench depth – Tony Allen, Mike Miller, Kosta Koufos, Ed Davis, Beno Udrih

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins
  • Bench depth – Reggie Jackson, Nick Collison, Derek Fisher, Caron Butler, Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Series

Post defense – Strength on strength. The Grizzlies’ offensive strong suit is the Thunder’s defensive strong suit. The Thunder have no problem packing the paint and retreating back on shooters. In fact, it’s what they do best (not the retreating back on shooters part, though). The Thunder have 4 players capable of defending Gasol, Randolph, and Kosta Koufos. What will be interesting is who starts off on who. Positionally, it should be Ibaka on Randolph and Perkins on Gasol. But, style-wise, Randolph’s bruising style is more suited for Perkins and Ibaka should be able to stay on Gasol, who likes to operate from 15 feet in.

perkins ibaka randolph gasol thunder grizzlies

Pace – Memphis tries to muddy up the game and keep it in the 90’s. If they are able to run their offense (half court-oriented, using a lot of the clock), and are able to dictate how you run your offense, that keeps them in their comfort zone. But if you force turnovers, score in transition, and don’t allow them to settle in defensively, it becomes very difficult for the Grizzlies to keep up in the scoring department.

Point guards – Probably the biggest factors in the series. Last season, the Thunder were without Russell Westbrook for the entire series. This season, the Grizzlies come into the series with a point guard that may have a nagging hamstring injury (Conley) and no back-up, due to Nick Calathes being suspended for 20 games due to a failed drug test. The Grizzlies come into the series with a slightly injured starting point guard and Beno Udrih. The Thunder on the other hand, come into the series with both their point guards in tow.

X-factors

For Memphis – Their X-factor is Mike Miller. The one way to combat a defense that focuses on the paint is to punish it with perimeter shooting. Mike Miller has the ability to punish teams from the outside, and it’s one of the reasons the Thunder pursued so aggressively in the offseason.

miller thabeet thunder grizzlies

For Oklahoma City – Their X-factor is Reggie Jackson. With Calathes being suspended for the series, Jackson should run roughshod when he’s in the game against the bench.

Prediction

Thunder in 5.

Two things: First thing, not only is Russell Westbrook back and healthy for the Thunder, but the point guard depth for the Grizzlies took a hit with Calathes’ suspension. Secondly, Kevin Durant has taken last season’s disappointment and learned from it. He’s more adept at finding the open man and willing to punish teams with the pass, instead of firing up an ill-advised jumper with two or three defenders draped on him.

Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 59 of 82)

Oklahoma City Thunder v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Three

  • When: Friday, 28 February 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Okay, guys. This whole “we’re just getting acclimated once again to life with Russell, while also missing Perk” thing was cute for about two games. Now, it’s kind of becoming a bit of a thing. The problem is, the offense has not been the issue. Many people thought the offense would suffer a bit as Westbrook tries to work out the kinks on his road to recovery from a 3rd knee surgery in an 8 month period. Instead, it is the defense that has looked abhorrent. The Thunder have given up two 40+ point quarters in the last two games, while allowing their opponents 114 points per game in the last 3 games. That is definitely not Thunder basketball.

This will be the 4th meeting of the year between these two teams. The Thunder lead the season series 2-1, with the last two games being dog fights that were decided in the 4th quarter. The Grizzlies eliminated the Thunder from last season’s playoffs in the 2nd round in 5 games. In the last 8 meetings between these two teams, Westbrook has only played in one of those games, a 116-100 Thunder victory.

The Opponent

gasol conley allen randolph grizzlies

The Memphis Grizzlies currently sit at 32-24, half a game back of the 8th seeded Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference. Participants in last season’s Western Conference Finals, the Grizzlies were looked at as one of the dark horses to come out of the West this season. Injuries have played a part in their current position in the conference, but with the entire team finally healthy, the Grizzlies have reeled off 6 wins in their last 8 games. The cornerstones of the offense, Mike Conley (ankle) and Marc Gasol (knee), have worked their ways back from injury and are starting to find their rhythm. Zach Randolph continues to be an effective double/double machine averaging 17.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. Due to the health of the team, the bench has gotten a boost from the return of Tony Allen from a hand injury, and the consistent play, of late, from James Johnson and Kosta Koufos.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Memphis Grizzlies

  • PG – Mike Conley
  • SG – Courtney Lee
  • SF – Tayshaun Prince
  • PF – Zach Randolph
  • C – Marc Gasol

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Foul Trouble – Randolph, Gasol, and Koufos are all crafty big men that play the game with as much IQ as they do brute strength. They know that Ibaka still bites on pump fakes a bit and that Steven Adams is just a rookie. It’s important that Ibaka, Adams, and Nick Collison use their fouls wisely and don’t get into foul trouble.

NBA:  Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder

2. Transition – True to their motto, Memphis loves to grind the game down to a half court affair with the big boys inside while also caring for the ball. They average only 12.6 turnovers per game, good for 3rd in the league. Look for the Thunder to swarm the ball when it goes to the post to try and create turnovers.

3. Pace – Does this game become a grinder or do the Thunder impose their will and push the pace. Look for the Thunder to go small if the game is close in order to push the pace a bit and get the Grizzlies out of their element.