Both teams made it through. One without their team’s second star, and one who disappointed the city of stars. Memphis won through controlling the pace and pounding Los Angeles down low. Even with all the firepower that the Clippers had, it wasn’t enough to bea to beat the grit of Memphis. Oklahoma lost Westbrook and probably gave Houston too much breathing room but won in the end. In my previews for both of their 1st round series, I predicted Memphis in 7 and Oklahoma in 5. Right again in terms of the victor. Once again, stick with me folks. Here we go.
How Memphis Wins:
Memphis wins basketball games through the same formula every game. They rebound, they pound it inside and they play defense… The BEST defense in the league I should add. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph both played superbly against the Clippers’ frontline. 17 points and 7 rebounds for Gasol and 21 points and 8 rebounds a game for Randolph. I think Ibaka and Perkins’ll test them both on the offensive end as those are two of the best low post defenders around but defensively they will have more room to help inside on Durant. Neither Ibaka nor Perkins has any offensive skill down low so they have the freedom to roam in the paint and make it tough for Durant to get inside. Without Westbrook, Durant is the sole focus for Memphis’ defense. If they can limit him to 30 points or less then they’ll win the series. Without Westbrook he’s averaged 33 points a game this postseason. Houston didn’t play defense against OKC and that’s why the role players were able to step up and give the Thunder a win even when Durant was scoring only 24 or 29 points. Against Memphis, those role players aren’t going to have as much freedom. So if Memphis just targets Durant and puts Tony Allen on him and holds him to 30 points or less then they will win the series. Everybody’s been playing great for Memphis lately. Mike Conley averaged 17 and 8 against L.A; Bayless averaged 9 points a game off the bench, as did Prince. I think it’s really important that these guys keep scoring and producing for Memphis against Oklahoma. The Thunder are a very strong defensive team and the Grizzly big men may have a hard time against Ibaka and Perkins – both top interior defenders. It may not be as easy as Los Angeles and they need their role players to step up when needed and knock down shots to take the pressure off. Memphis needs to control the pace as well. They did an excellent job of making the Clippers play their style of game and they’re going to have to do the same against a Thunder team who loves to get out and run.
How Oklahoma City Wins:
Oklahoma City wins by guarding the post. Memphis scores the majority of their points inside from the hands of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Luckily for OKC they have a trio of some of the best low post defenders in the game in Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison. That’s why I said if OKC were to get Memphis over Los Angeles it would be a blessing in disguise. To beat Memphis there’s a formula. There is a concrete game plan and that is stop them down low and force other guys to make shots. They luckily have the guys needed to stop their big men, which is why they match-up so well. I think Kevin Durant will have an easier time as well against Memphis on the perimeter. The Grizzlies have Tony Allen and although he could be the best one-on-one defender around, he’s only 6’4. Kevin Durant can be anywhere from 6’10 to 7 feet on a good day. There’s no way Tony Allen is going to alter Durant’s shot, and Durant will really have the ability to shoot right over him all series. He may bother him but we all know nobody can stop him, especially someone half a foot shorter. Reggie Jackson will also be huge in this series defensively. It’ll be his job to limit Mike Conley’s penetration and harass him to disrupt the entire offense for Memphis. The Thunder bench will be huge in this series as well. Without Westbrook they lost a lot of depth. With Jackson starting at the point guard, they only have Martin and Fisher to score the ball off the bench. Memphis on the other hand has Bayless, Arthur, Dooling, Ed Davis and even Austin Daye to provide a scoring punch off the bench. They all do their jobs well and the Thunder are going to need to match that intensity so whenever Durant takes a breather they don’t completely lose grasp of the game. If there has ever been a time for Kevin Martin to step up it’s now. He needs to be the Thunder’s second offensive weapon. He needs to make shots and be aggressive throughout.
Who Will Win?
I think Memphis has this one. Without Westbrook, the Thunder doesn’t have enough to beat a true contender in the West. They barely beat the Rockets and they don’t even play defense. Now they’re up against the toughest team in the league and unfortunately I don’t think they’ll be able to keep up. Kevin Durant will probably continue to average 30 a game but without his wingman, the Thunder aren’t a contender.
Grizzlies in 6.