Thunder vs. Grizzlies: Which one will be smiling at the end?
These two Western Conference powers face each other in what shapes up to be a very intriguing series. Both teams coming off Game 6 clinching victories, in their respective 1st round series, Friday night, now look to move on to the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder, of course, come in limping after the losing Russell Westbrook in the Rockets series. The Grizzlies are relatively healthy. No major injuries to their core of players.
So, who has the advantage? OKC has home court advantage, but without Russell Westbrook the Thunder simply look like a different team. Westbrook’s absence has silenced (at least it should have) a lot of critics, who question the importance of Russ to the team. Kevin Durant, so far has not gotten into a comfort zone of being a facilitator and a scorer vs just scoring. OKC’s offensive flow was a lot better Friday night vs Houston, than it was the prior three games without Westbrook, however. Houston’s defense of Durant was to slow him down with an all hands on deck approach, and basically force others to beat them. That approach worked games 4 and 5, due to OKC’s supporting cast not hitting their shots. Game 6 was a totally different story. Derek Fisher and Kevin Martin went a combined 6-10 from 3 point land. That type production will be imperative for a Thunder win.
The Grizzlies’s approach to winning is quite different than OKC’s. Memphis is completely fine with grinding out victories with solid D and timely offense. OKC wants to get up and down, but have had trouble doing so without Westbrook. In my eye, the Grizzlies are definitely the more complete team in this series, and one of the most complete in the NBA. The only problem is having that one go-to-guy in the clutch. The closest guy they have for that role is probably Zach Randolph. Randolph, has been steady, but I like what OKC can potentially do with him defensively. Randolph will get his points, but a combination of Ibaka, Perkins, and Collison are more than capable of handling him and Marc Gasol down low.
This series will come down to the matchup of the back courts. Mike Conley has come into his own and is now the leader we envisioned him being coming out of Ohio St. He should have great success getting where he wants to go against Reggie Jackson or Derek Fisher. If things go bad for OKC matching up with Conley, Thabo Sefolosha will likely defend him some. The X-Factor for the Grizzlies without a doubt is Tony Allen. It will be interesting to see how he’s incorporated defensively. He’ll probably see a lot of time against Durant.
This has the makings of a long series. I see it going seven with each team winning on the other’s floor. OKC wins in the end.