Grizzlies (3-3, 2-1 road) vs. Thunder (3-3, 1-2 home)
One game to decide this thing. It ends tonight, with someone moving on and someone heading to their offseason. With the way the Thunder played Game 6, going on the road to beat down the Grizzlies by 20, it appeared that maybe that were finally turning the page, that they had finally figured a few things out. Heading into Game 7 at home, it felt like the Thunder had an actual advantage in the series. And then things really started to go bad for Memphis.
Mike Conley tweaked his hamstring late in Game 6, putting his availability and effectiveness in doubt. Zach Randolph was suspended for punching Steven Adams, joining Nick Calathes on the sideline. And Tony Allen is questionable after taking a poke/scratch in the eye. The Grizzlies are beat up and beat down. But that’s a team that pride itself on gritting and grinding, so making assumptions about tonight is a bad idea.
I can’t be the only one that’s been made more nervous by the rash of injuries and suspensions for the Grizzlies. Them missing key players obviously is an advantage for the Thunder, but we’ve seen it time and time again where OKC loses focus playing against a short-handed team.
Plus, with Randolph out, it means the Grizzlies may be inclined to go small early and often. The Grizzlies have had moderate success with smallball in this series, though their most used non-Randolph lineup is Udrih, Lee, Miller, Allen and Gasol. That group has played 15 minutes together and appeared in four games.
There’s a good chance Dave Joerger will start Mike Miller and Tony Allen — if he’s available, which I expect him to be — to combat Scott Brooks’ adjustment of starting Caron Butler. So the Grizzlies may be able to force a few early mismatches, and it leaves Kendrick Perkins, who has been sensational in this series, without a place. Perk defends Randolph exceptionally well. Not so much with Gasol, and if Brooks sticks with him as a starter, that’s the only player Perk could defend. So Ibaka would have to slide over on Allen or Lee, and the Thunder would be mismatched at tipoff. Kind of a scary thing, considering Brooks’ history.
Still: Even without the rash of issues the Grizzlies are facing, the Thunder should win the game. Kevin Durant seemed to get back to basics a bit in Game 6, and Russell Westbrook found much more of a rhythm. Back at home with the urgency of Game 7, the Thunder should come out ready.
But more than ever, there are no good excuses now for not handling this and punching a ticket to the second round. The Thunder have only been placed in a more pressurized situation, the clear favorite that faces monumental criticism for not moving on. So are you still scared? You should be.
Five Big Things
1. Conley. I will say this, and I don’t like to speak in absolutes much: If Conley can’t go, or is even extremely limited, the Grizzlies are sunk. They’ll lose by 25. He’s the engine to that team and the only player that can really consistently threaten the Thunder’s defense. The Grizzlies can’t just pound the ball to Gasol all night. Without weapons to kick to, the Thunder can double and force the ball away from him. Conley is their hope. If he’s good to go, the Grizzlies can still win.
2. Other guys. The dangerous players: Marc Gasol, obviously, Mike Miller (DON’T LEAVE HIM EVER) and Courtney Lee. Outside of those three, the Grizzlies don’t have much offensive punch to hurt you with.
3. KD. The 36 he dropped in Game 6 was special, but can he build on that? Can he make a couple 3s? Can he get back to the free throw line consistently?
4. Benches. With the Grizzlies taking a beating, the Thunder have an even more significant bench advantage. Especially if Conley is limited. The Thunder have to expose the Grizzlies’ lack of depth.
5. Don’t think about them. The Thunder can’t think about the Grizzlies and who they have and what their situation is. They’re just playing against themselves tonight. Play a good game, and the rest takes care of itself.
Tip at 7:00 CT. Go Finish Them.