So the Thunder lost Game 1. As a result, everyone promptly freaked. More silly discussions about Russell Westbrook, people wondering if the series is over and on and on.
It happens. When you lose a game in the playoffs, especially Game 1 at home, it happens. Everything is maginified and amplified in the postseason. Questionable shots become horrible shots, forced passes become disastrous turnovers and small critiques and questions become massive doubts and overreactions.
Again, it happens. One loss puts you closer to four, which means you’re out. The playoffs present scary, tense moments. And this fanbase is largely unfamiliar with all this. Thunder fans have only had one previous playoff venture and that one was all gravy. Didn’t matter if OKC was swept, it was party and everyone was happy. This trip is different.
The Thunder did three very important things badly yesterday: They didn’t protect the paint, they didn’t rebound and they didn’t take care of the ball. Adding a fourth, they didn’t take the ball either.
The Grizzlies had an offensive rating of 123.48. That’s pretty, pretty good. The Thunder 107.36 points per 100 possessions, which is not bad by any stretch and in most every case this season, would result in a win. For everyone wanting to blame the Thunder loss on a certain player, look no further than those numbers. The defense was terrible, period.
But it’s one game. The Grizzlies have a big edge, but they still need three more. All the Thunder has to focus on is getting things righted Tuesday night. There will be pressure, there will be some anxiety. Which might be a good thing. Things need to change though. The Thunder can’t play the same thing Sunday or just “harder” and expect to win. So here are five adjustments that could help.
1. Dig down on Zach Randolph. This is something the Thunder doesn’t like doing much of, especially since acquiring Kendrick Perkins. Even after his terrific game yesterday, I still think Serge Ibaka can defend Randolph to a degree, but having the guards dig down and show double-teams could maybe force him to give the ball up some.
Randolph isn’t a big guy that’s prone to turn the ball over (2.0 per game during the regular season) and passes well out of a double-team. It’s worth a shot to at least try and force him to give it up. When he’s got his lean-back jumper going, he’s impossible to defend. The only way you can stop him is if you keep the ball away from him.
One other adjustment with Randolph: Play him tight. Like get right up in him. He can put the ball on the floor, but that’s better than just giving him the lean-back jumper. It looked like Ibaka had Randolph’s pump fake in his head a bit too much and was late challenging on the jumper. The Thunder tried getting up in Randolph later in the game and I thought they were more effective that way.
2. Pack the paint. The Grizzlies aren’t a proficient 3-point shooting team (just 3.8 3-point makes per game, last in the league). In the postseason, the Grizzlies rank dead last in both attempts and makes, by pretty wide margins. They don’t want to shoot from outside. They want to score in the paint. It’s just a matter of you stopping them.
3. Make shots. That’s simple, I realize. Not great analysis, I realize. But it’s true. The Thunder missed a bunch of shots they should’ve made yesterday. The 51 percent at the rim is actually higher than I expected, but OKC went 0-6 inside the paint. Compare that to 5-13 for Memphis. The Thunder went 10-21 from midrange, which is good, but the Grizzlies went 15-31. Again, poor Thunder defense for the most part.
Part of that frustrating offense stems from not including James Harden in the Thunder scheme. Now Harden deserves some blame himself for the clunker he tossed in yesterday. He shouldn’t go 2-5 for just five points in most any circumstance. But the Thunder slid into a two-man offense for almost the entire second half yesterday. Everything was one-on-one. Harden can’t score if he doesn’t get the ball in a position to score.
Other than Ibaka, Westbrook and Durant, the rest of the team score just 21 points. That can’t happen. Mainly because Harden should be getting 15-20 on his own. A better, more diversified Thunder offense means a better Thunder defense.
4. Take care of the dang ball. Probably the best solution is to slow down. It looked like the Thunder tried to manufacture energy by just playing faster yesterday. As a result, Russell Westbrook got a bit out of control, the team threw away passes and players dribbled the ball off their feet. Slow down, play smart and trust your game.
Related: Force turnovers.
5. Defend the high pick-and-roll. This was the Grizzlies crunch time offense. They brought Marc Gasol out very high to run pick-and-roll with Mike Conley. This pulled Kendrick Perkins out of the paint and made him move his feet on the perimeter.
Even Perk said after the game that he didn’t know Gasol could consistently hit that 15-foot jumper (he shot 40 percent from there during the season). Gasol wasn’t afraid to tee up the midrange jumper but he also was patient with the ball and let the Thunder defense rotate a tick before dumping off to a cutter or Randolph in the paint. The high pick-and-roll sets up good high-low action for Memphis. The Thunder has to cover this better, otherwise the Grizzlies gave a solid go-to set in big moments, something the Nuggets did not.