NBA Playoffs Grizzlies-Thunder: The collapsers
Posted on: May 7, 2011 9:41 pm
Edited on: May 7, 2011 10:02 pm
Posted by Matt Moore
If a team falls apart multiple times, they have a reputation as choke artists, collapsers, mentally weak. If a team creates those implosions on a regular basis, the onus is always put on the other team for failing to close. Welcome to the life of the Memphis Grizzlies after a drive past the Oklahoma City Thunder's 16-point lead into overtime, and on to a victory, gave them a 2-1 advantage in the series. Memphis won't get the credit for it. Sure, OKC will get the blame, but the reality is that there may be no better demolition team in the NBA right now than the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Thunder were the better team for the vast majority of Game 3. That's not home cookin'. It was a product of smart, crisp basketball on offense from the Thunder. And it came through brilliant shooting and ball movement, and physical, bordering on brutal, defense, especially inside. Zach Randolph was scoring, but needing a shot for every point, racking up turnovers, and was extremely frustrated. Marc Gasol couldn't get any of his touch shots to fall. Russell Westbrook's mid-range was falling. It was doom for the Grizzlies, who looked outclassed.
Then, after building a solid structure of basketball for 3.5 quarters, the Grizzlies swept the legs of the structure out from within, and the Thunder collapsed under their own weight. Those legs were based on the play of Russell Westbrook, and what took them out was most surprising of all, O.J. Mayo.
Mayo didn't have a great game. He couldn't get the runner to fall, wasn't hot from the perimeter. He shot just 30 percent from the field. Mayo's known as a pure scorer. Yet when called on to stop Westbrook and provide a spark, he brought the effort. That effort is what carried Memphis into the playoffs and it sparked the Grizzlies on Saturday. But Mayo couldn't do it alone. No, in coming back from 16 down, Mayo and the Grizzlies got a great contribution from... Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook has the speed to blow by Mayo. He has the strength to back him down. Mayo too often gambles on the perimeter pass and hedges too hard on the screen-and-roll. Westbrook elected to dribble right into Mayo, and force mid-range contested jumper after mid-range contested jumper. Kevin Durant, who had been totally en fuego, was ignored just long enough for the fire to die out. The result was Durant's miss on a last-possession pull-up jumper, and Durant being unable to rediscover his shot.
Durant's last made field goal came with 7:43 to go in the fourth. He had three shots in the remainder of regulation, including the last possession... another Scott Brooks' special. Durant was 10-18 at 7:43. He would finish on an 0-6 run, thanks to the best defense Tony Allen has played all series. He played the passing lane hard, snatched steals, and on the other end, got out in transition. Allen drew fouls, but didn't hit layups. He missed free throws, but got one of two each time. The same kind of grind that got Memphis here.
The Thunder will look at their defense, at their offense, at their composure. Scott Brooks needs to examine why James Harden, who may honestly be the best distributor OKC has with Westbrook playing as he is, isn't getting time in key situations. He may also question why Westbrook isn't getting the off-ball movement from other Thunder players to get him away from his poor decisions on pull-ups. The Grizzlies played terribly for most of the game. Zach Randolph was inefficient and frustrated. They shot 38 percent from the field, and allowed Serge Ibaka to score 14 points. And they won.
So OKC goes back to the drawing board, having given up a 16-point lead to go down 2-1 with a scary Game 4 up next. The Thunder were minutes away from cementing themselves as the team in control of the series, possibly on their way to the Western Conference Finals. Instead, the house that Presti built imploded in on itself, another victim of the same thing that left the Spurs Palace in ruins: the other team just wanted it more.
Tags: 2011 NBA Playoffs, 2011 second-round playoffs, 2011 WC Conference Semifinals, 2011 WC Playoffs, Chris Wallace, Clay Bennett, Conference Semifinals, Darrell Arthur, Eric Maynor, Greivis Vasquez, Hamed Haddadi, James Harden, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Durant, Lionel Hollins, Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies, Michael Heisley, Mike Conley, NBA Playoffs, Nick Collison, O.J. Mayo, Oklahoma City Thunder, Russell Westbrook, Sam Presti, Sam Young, Scott Brooks, second-round playoffs, Serge Ibaka, Shane Battier, Thabo Sefolosha, Tony Allen, WC Playoffs, Zach Randolph