Grizzlies (2-2, 1-1 road) vs. Thunder (2-2, 1-1 home)
After tonight, one team is a game away. And with the way this series has progressed, Game 5 is definitely more important to the Thunder than it is to the Grizzlies. A win for Memphis tonight and they feel wonderful having a chance to close out at home in Game 6. But they know a loss doesn’t do them in because they have Game 6 at home. For the Thunder, a loss tonight and they no longer have homecourt and face elimination on the road.
And then there’s the momentum factor. The Thunder have played three horrific games in a row, and yet still somehow find themselves tied 2-2. Game 4 was an absolutely slog, a night of pure survival. The Thunder won it, and now have control of the series again. There’s a feeling that the Thunder haven’t played their best game yet and it’s coming soon. Game 4 might serve as the springboard to that.
Problem with that is, nothing has been remotely easy for the Thunder. Yes, Kevin Durant has played horribly and is due a good game, but a lot of that is a result of poor offensive scheme by the Thunder and wonderful Memphis defense. I think we’re all expecting it to change, but then again, why?
The Thunder can get away with playing poorly to win, but that just means they have to have an elite defensive effort and someone else step up. Reggie Jackson ain’t scoring 32 again, so it’s going to have to be someone. Durant and Russell Westbrook are the likely candidates, but maybe it’s Caron Butler hitting five 3s, or Serge Ibaka staying integrated in the offense for 40 minutes.
Whatever the case is, the Thunder need this game just as badly as they needed Game 4, but for different reasons. Lose, and you give it all away and have to go back to that place in Memphis and repeat the magic of Saturday. Game 5 is the Thunder opportunity to re-establish their contender-ness, and take a big step toward the second round. What are they really made of? We’re going to find out.
Five Big Things
1. KD. It’s time for him to get going. His 5-21 performance in Game 4 was stunning because I think we all expected him to rise above that Grizzly defense and erupt, because he’s Kevin Durant and that’s the type of thing he does. Memphis is clearly in his head some as his confidence has slipped and he seems to be looking over his shoulder at every moment. He looks like a wide receiver that just got blown up over the middle by Patrick Willis and is short-arming everything after.
2. Russ. One of the biggest problems for Russell Westbrook is the worse he plays, the worse he gets. When it’s going bad for him, he decides to try harder and just hustle his way out of it. That’s good in terms of defense and rebounding, but bad in terms of shot selection and offensive decisions.
3. Run. The Thunder need some transition buckets. They haven’t been able to do much on the break at all this series. Everything is in the halfcourt, and that’s destroying rhythm.
4. Bench. Jackson’s 32 was brilliant, but it’s not something reliable. Even without it, the Thunder’s second unit did solid work, with Butler knocking down a few shots. The Thunder have the better bench, and need to use it.
5. Z-Bo. Like Durant, but much more quietly, Zach Randolph has been held down. Kendrick Perkins is doing a wonderful job, but that just means that Randolph is a game away from sorting things out.
Tip at 8:00 CT. Go Win.