Thunder (1-2, 0-1 road) vs. Grizzlies (2-1, 1-0 home)
I’m going to say more words than this, but here’s really all you need to know about this game: The Thunder don’t have to win it, but they have to win it, if you know what I mean. The prospect of beating the Grizzlies three straight times would be daunting, but if the Thunder can just get this one, they’re back on control of the series. They came to Memphis needing a split, and that’s still very much in play. They just have to do it.
Game 3 was a swing game, and the Grizzlies rode the wave to capture a 2-1 lead. For a second game in a row, they survived a furious Thunder comeback that featured theatrics, drama and of course, four-point plays. Game 3 was almost a carbon copy of Game 2 in a lot of ways in that the Grizzlies suffocated the Thunder’s potent offense, and then hung on for dear life in overtime.
The Grizzlies have disrupted the Thunder’s offense by essentially inviting them to almost entirely rely on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. A lot of times, that can backfire because of the talent and power of the duo, but instead, those two combined to shoot 53 of the Thunder’s 87 total shots in Game 4, and that one-dimensionality of OKC cost it.
But here’s the other factor: Durant hasn’t played near to his ability. Tony Allen has done terrific work on him, but Durant is missing shots he routinely makes, and seems to be pressing a bit. Durant and the Thunder have been backed into a corner, and they have to respond. He’s going to be named the league’s MVP in a couple weeks; it’s time to play like one.
Five Big Things
1. Pass it. The Thunder have never been a great ball movement squad, but 11 passes on 22 possession is unacceptable offense. There has to be more of a commitment to playing together and trust your teammate.
2. Remember Serge Ibaka. The Thunder have a secret offensive weapon that they are almost refusing to use. Ibaka had a career offensive season, averaging 15.1 points on 53.6 percent shooting. In the three games against the Grizzlies, he’s taken only 28 total shots, and only had one in the fourth quarter and overtime of Game 3. Ibaka’s ability to create some natural spacing out of the pick-and-roll at the elbows is a critical element of the Thunder’s offense, except he seems to have been largely ignored. Plain and simple: Ibaka needs to be a focal point of the offense.
3. Relax. I think a lot of the offensive trust issues are stemming from the fact that the Thunder are tight. At least they look that way to me. They’re forcing and pressing too much. Relax and play with some confidence and swagger.
4. Bench. Hello? Are you guys there?
5. Play better. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, this is for you. Play like yourselves again. That’ll take care of most of these problems.
Tip at 8:30 CT. Go Gotta Win.