Tag:Russell Westbrook
Posted on: May 10, 2011 1:43 am
Edited on: May 10, 2011 2:05 am
 

NBA Playoffs: Heat finally close one out

The Heat haven't closed all year. They closed out Boston in Game 4 to take a 3-1 advantage. 
Posted by Matt Moore




After a season of clutch failures, of questions about Chris Bosh, of being plagued by the talk that they are simply not mentally focused enough to win the title, Miami simply shut everyone up. 
LeBron James closed. His last shot was a miss, rebounded and tipped in by Chris Bosh. Other than that? James nailed a huge three in Paul Pierce's grill, got inside for a runner, and then made a key pass to get Bosh a dunk. He was a monster down the stretch, despite a key turnover that opened the door for a Pierce game winner which he missed. 

The Heat closed. And they may have closed out another NBA superpower. The Celtics had seemed like the superior mental team right up until the last regular season meeting between the two. And, after the Game 3 meltdown, there was a sense that maybe the Heat of the regular season had returned. But the Heat washed all that away and the Celtics once again looked like a team that was simply too old to run with the Triad. 

Mental focus and intensity were the biggest weaknesses for the Heat in the regular season. But they finally stepped up when they needed to, much like the Celtics were known to. With a 3-1 series advantage, the Heat clearly look like the better team.

Public sentiment means LeBron can't count on anyone providing credit. But it should be noted that he and Paul Pierce had yet another epic game in a career-long battle. They went back and forth at each other all night, and in the end, Pierce missed an elbow jumper from the left instead of his favorite spot, the right. There was miscommunication on the play, and the screen for Pierce never came. James stuck with Pierce and the game winner missed. Meanwhile, for James it was all speed, all aggression.

The Heat have always had the talent. That's obvious. But they never looked like a mentally tough team. But on Monday night, they may have gone through the baptism of fire they needed. They closed. 

And they are finally in a position to put the Celtics ghosts that have haunted them to bed. 
Posted on: May 9, 2011 11:36 am
 

Playoff Fix: Bears smell fear

Questions abound for the Thunder going into Game 4, but one thing's for certain: It's a must-win. 
Posted by Matt Moore




One Big Thing: What did Game 3 really tell us? The Oklahoma City Thunder played really well for about 42 minutes. The Memphis Grizzlies played terribly for about 42 minutes. Grizzlies won, Thunder lost. So the questions we have to ask are: 
  1. If OKC simply held its composure for another five minutes, they win. So are they doing the right things, and just had a bad spell, or is this a warning that playing well but not great (as they played great in a Game 2 victory) will not be enough against a Memphis team that has zero quit?
  2. Memphis nearly let the game get out of hand, then stormed back to win. Can the Grizzlies afford to play subpar for long stretches and hope to create another epic collapse as they have several times in these playoffs?
  3. The Thunder have lost when role players like Eric Maynor, Serge Ibaka, and Nick Collison haven't stepped up. Does Kevin Durant need more of the offense to compensate, or can OKC trust its supporting cast?
  4. Memphis has won once with a terrific game from Zach Randolph, and once with a high-usage, low-efficiency performance that was deceptively poor. Do they have to get a masterful game from Randolph, or just make sure he gets his 20+ points by hook or by crook? 

Game 3 feels like it may have revealed the identity of this series. We're just not sure yet what that identity is. We'll know more after Game 4. A win for OKC makes Game 3 seem like a fluke, while a loss? That calls into doubt just how much the Thunder really are in this series. 

The X-Factor: Turnovers. Memphis creates so many, but the Thunder have done well in containing theirs in this series... until that last five minutes of Game 4. Then things completely fell apart. If the Thunder don't contain their turnovers, Memphis gets out in transition. Easy buckets negates the advantage the Thunder have defensively. It's in some ways a Catch-22 for the Thunder. They're supposed to have more ball movement from Russell Westbrook, but more ball movement increases the chances of the Grizzlies' hyper-aggressive play of the passing lanes leading to turnovers. Crisp, smart offense is a must for the Thunder. They did so well for most of Game 3. But if that was an outlier and the end is the pattern for this series, the Grizzlies will be playing their game on their floor. 

The Adjustment: O.J. Mayo has had a bounce-back series. He's playing well enough to start Game 4, but Lionel Hollins will stick with his rotation. The issue is that Sam Young had advantages in size versus the Spurs, but the Spurs never exploited him in terms of perimeter speed. The Thunder are very intent on doing so. Mayo did a shockingly good job vs. Russell Westbrook in Game 3, and his speed on the perimeter allows Conley to play the off-guard which is also helpful. Even though Mayo won't start, expect more lineups and time for Mayo. If he gets his shot to where it needs to be and makes plays like he can, the Grizzlies are going to neutralize a big advantage the Thunder thought they'd have coming into the series. 

The Sticking Point: Oklahoma City has looked like a better team in this series for seven of twelve quarters, but are down 2-1. If the Grizzlies have a good game vs. a good fourth quarter like they had in Game 3, the Thunder could be down 3-1, going back to OKC and in a huge hole. They have matchup advantages, no one can stop Kevin Durant, their defense has been superb, their role players have stepped up, Serge Ibaka is hitting jumpers, Zach Randolph is no longer dominating, the Thunder are controlling the paint, and James Harden looks like a sixth man of the year candidate. And the Thunder are down 2-1. Game 4 is the one where either the seemingly superior team asserts itself and gets back on track, or we start wondering just how much lightning this Thunder has. 
Posted on: May 7, 2011 9:59 pm
Edited on: May 7, 2011 10:34 pm
 

Russell Westbrook and the evolving blame-game

Posted by Royce Young



Russell Westbrook was playing a fantastic game. One that was bringing his critics back around. One that was reminding people was an incredible talent he is at just 22 years old and in his third year as a pro. He was creating, dishing, scoring and finishing.

He had the Thunder cooking the Grizzlies, taking them up to a 16-point lead as he racked up assists and played a solid, controlled game. Oklahoma City looked downright dominant and appeared to be cruising to a 2-1 series lead and regaining the homecourt advantage.

But things felt apart in a big way the final six minutes of the fourth quarter. Spanning to overtime, where OKC lost 101-93, the Thunder went eight minutes without a basket, missed 11 straight shots and scored just 17 points the final 17 minutes, including overtime.

Most everyone with a Twitter account, a blog or even a voice pinned it all directly on the shoulders of Westbrook. Most saw it being his fault for stopping the ball, for not getting it to Kevin Durant, for killing the Thunder's chances to win this game. And you haven't heard the last of it. It's just going to get worse the more people stew on this game.

From my eyes, though, I just didn't see it that way. I'm evidently very much in the minority, but I just refuse to place the blame on Westbrook for Game 3's incredible meltdown.

Does he deserve a big slice of blame? Definitely. Probably one right out of the middle of the pie. With lots of icing. He didn’t do the things those last six minutes that he had done up to that point. The first 42 minutes, he was fantastic. Setting up teammates, scoring in rhythm, making good decisions — it was beautiful. But with the Thunder trying to hang on a lead, a lot of that flew right out the door.

Not entirely because of Westbrook, though. Again, he’s absolutely got blood on his hands. He might even be holding the knife. He entered the fourth quarter with 12 assists and finished the game with that number. That’s all on him.

But I have to stop short of joining the bash party and piling on Westbrook's game.

What the Thunder looked like those last few minutes was a team up by a touchdown and content to just run the ball three times into an eight-man front and punt. They wound the clock down with a lot of dribbling, then brought Kevin Durant to the top of the key and tried to isolate him there. But, because of great ball-denial and the fact Durant didn’t position well enough to actually receive the ball, Westbrook was basically left with a ticking time bomb in his hands. The play was a dud and he was left standing there having to make a play with five on the shot clock.

Where Westbrook failed was that he then put his nose down and tried to just make a play on his own. It was all up to him after the initial, one-option play crumbled, but he still could have drawn the defense and dished. He could've gone all the way to the rim. He settled instead for jumpers — mostly good looks too, I’d say — that he didn’t make. The offense went entirely stale, the ball stopped and nobody moved. Is that Westbrook’s fault? Or is it a product of the play call coming from the sideline? That’s the question I’m asking right now.

Everyone is griping that Durant didn’t see the ball much in those moments, but again, he was in no position to score. The Thunder basically ran the same stuff that killed Denver in Game 5 where Durant took over and started etching his name into playoff lore. Difference here was Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler weren’t on Durant. Tony Allen is terrific in ball denial and can stop Durant’s dribble. Durant just doesn’t have the ability to put the ball on the floor more than twice and get a good shot over Allen. It’s not happening.

But at any point did you really see a time where Durant was open and Westbrook truly looked him off? What I saw was Durant hovering around the 3-point line with his hand up, not moving. I mean with four on the shot clock, what do you want Westbrook to do? Kick it out there and let his buddy fire from 30 feet? Why does KD deserve the ball if he’s 30 feet from the basket, not moving and covered? How is that Westbrook being a bad point guard?

I know I’ve seen Westbrook succeed in exactly what he tried to do Saturday at least 20 times during the regular season. I’ve seen him take over when the other options (or this case, option) was locked down. It’s the great luxury the Thunder have had all season long, and the reason this team won 55 games.

Because, let’s face it, it’s not like Durant was absolutely pouring it on the Grizzlies and Westbrook was waving him off. Durant finished the game just 2-11 from the floor and I’m not sure he got a clean look in the bunch. What people tell me about that though, is that’s somehow Westbrook’s fault. You’ve got to get him in a better position to score! You’ve got to set up teammates! You’ve got to create better looks! True, yes. But what do you want Westbrook to do — shoot and make Durant's shots for him too?

At some point, it’s about Durant getting himself open. If you’re open, Russ will find you. Those last five minutes, nobody was. I won't blame Westbrook for that. I blame horrific team offense and questionable play-calling from Brooks. Not just Westbrook playing hero and trying to start some alpha dog battle, as most would make you think.

Prepare for a comparison you’re going to hate, but I want to say it: If Dwyane Wade did exactly what Westbrook did in this game, would everyone freak out? I realize Westbrook isn’t Wade, but he is an All-Star and averaging better than 20 points a game this season. But if Wade tried to take over and LeBron was left standing with a hand up on the 3-point line, would we all yell, curse his name and place an incredible amount of blame on him? Or would we just say, "Hey, Wade's a great scorer and he's capable of taking over too." That's my point here. It's not like this was Royal Ivey trying to make something happen.

Why the Thunder quit running the offense late in the fourth is beyond me. Maybe it was indeed Westbrook, but it really appeared to be more a product of the Thunder trying to kill clock, get the ball to Durant and let him finish. It’s a good plan in principle, but it didn’t work. The cutting, moving, screening and slashing disappeared. And Westbrook is left to pick up the pieces and rescue each bad possession by making a play.

It's pretty unfair to single out Westbrook here simply because No. 35 is on the floor with him. Should the ball go there first? Yes. And if you re-watch, that was the design every time.

But once that option is shut down, you go to Plan B, which, in the Thunder's case, is a pretty good one. A lot of the criticism I see for Westbrook stems almost entirely from "Don't you see Kevin Durant over there!" and other sentences like that. I understand the idea there, but it's not really fair to me. Why does Derrick Rose get a free pass from dominating the ball and taking bad shots? Only because Durant isn’t on his team? That’s what people always tell me but it’s not like Rose is playing with two janitors, a ball boy and some hobo picked up from Navy Pier. Rose gets excused because he's a great offensive player. And so is Russell Westbrook.

It's the curse of being a scoring point guard. If someone were curling off a screen and doinking shots while Durant stood idly by, I don't think we'd say nearly as much about it.

Could he have done better? Obviously. The Thunder dropped a crucial Game 3 because the offense left early. Westbrook is the commander of that offense and he's got to do better. But blaming him only? Comparing him to Stephon Marbury? That's just, well, stupid.
Posted on: May 7, 2011 9:41 pm
Edited on: May 7, 2011 10:02 pm
 

NBA Playoffs Grizzlies-Thunder: The collapsers



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. 
Posted on: May 2, 2011 11:33 pm
 

Playoff Fix: Thunder must bounce back

Posted by Royce Young



MEMPHIS LEADS 1-0


One Big Thing: I hate calling games a "must-win" when in reality, they aren't must-win at all. I mean, the Thunder aren't eliminated if they lose Tuesday.

But really, they might as well be. Lose Tuesday at home again to the Grizzlies and winning this series is near impossible. It's not the end of the world to drop Game 1 and give away homecourt advantage. Teams survive that sort of thing. The Lakers did this season against the Hornets. Though with the way the Grizzlies seemed to dominate, Thunder fans have to be a bit anxious.

The pressure will be on in OKC Tuesday. It's not win or go home. It's just win at home.

The X-Factor:
Pack the paint. Memphis scored 52 in the painted area in Game 1 and really just chewed up the Thunder inside. The Grizzlies aren’t a proficient 3-point shooting team (just 3.8 3-point makes per game, last in the league). In the postseason, the Grizzlies rank dead last in both attempts and makes, by pretty wide margins. They don’t want to shoot from outside. They want to score in the paint. It’s just a matter of you stopping them.

The Adjustment: Dig down and maybe even double Zach Randolph . This is something the Thunder doesn’t like doing much of, especially since acquiring Kendrick Perkins. Even after his terrific game yesterday, I still think Serge Ibaka can defend Randolph to a degree, but having the guards dig down and show double-teams could maybe force him to give the ball up some.

Randolph isn’t a big guy that’s prone to turn the ball over (2.0 per game during the regular season) and passes well out of a double-team. It’s worth a shot to at least try and force him to give it up. When he’s got his lean-back jumper going, he’s impossible to defend. The only way you can stop him is if you keep the ball away from him.

The Sticking Point: The Grizzlies took care of the ball Sunday only turning it over eight times while forcing 18 against the Thunder. Russell Westbrook had seven on his own. OKC has to do a better job handling the Grizzlies' pressure. The Thunder offense was decent but it could've been a lot better had they not turned it over so much. Same thing with the defense. Memphis had an offensive rating of 123.48, but if the Thunder forces a handful of turnovers, that number drops. Kevin Durant did fine scoring the ball and Westbrook added a good secondary punch. Bad defense, too many turnovers and a lack thereof on the other end did OKC in. Fix some of that and the Thunder can get back in this.
Posted on: May 1, 2011 6:57 pm
Edited on: May 1, 2011 8:27 pm
 

Turnover differential bigger deal than Westbrook

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook was careless in Game 1, but don't overlook a different story about turnovers. Posted by Ben Golliver.

Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook commits a lot of turnovers. So many, in fact, that he led the league with 3.9 turnovers per game. But like many highly-skilled, high-usage players, looking only at Westbrook's turnover numbers doesn't tell a very clear story; his relentlessly attacking style means that he commits a high number of turnovers in both wins and losses alike. 

On Sunday, Westbrook committed seven turnovers in Game 1 of Oklahoma City's Western Conference Semifinals series, a 114-101 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. It was the second time in six games this post-season that he's committed seven turnovers, and Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard is the only player in this year's playoffs to commit more in a game. 

Turnovers are bound to play a major part of this series, as Memphis led the league in forcing turnovers, watching the opponents cough up the ball 16.7 times per game. But pinning the Game 1 loss on Westbrook's lack of ball control doesn't tell the full story. 

Here come some numbers. The Thunder was 31-13 (70.4 percent winning percentage) when Westbrook committed four turnovers or less, and 28-16 (63.6 percent) when he committed more than four turnovers this season. The Thunder was also 11-7 (61.1 percent) when Westbrook committed six or more turnovers. Somewhat amazingly, the Thunder was 8-4 (66.7 percent) when Westbrook committed seven or more turnovers this season, including a win in Game 2 of Oklahoma City's first round series against the Denver Nuggets. To summarize: The Thunder played better when Westbrook took very good care of the ball, but they weren't sunk by any means if he was all over the place. Thanks to their tempo, offensive efficiency and ability to get to the free throw line, the Thunder was able to win more often than not regardless of how many miscues Westbrook committed.

Bigger than Westbrook's struggles with his ball-handling in Game 1 was the fact that the Grizzlies did an excellent job of taking care of the ball. As a team, Memphis turned the ball over just eight times, giving them a +10 differential against the Thunder in Game 1. That's an excellent recipe for success: Memphis was 10-1 during the regular season when they committed fewer than 10 turnovers. Meanwhile, Oklahoma City was 5-9 in games in which they didn't force at least 10 turnovers. 

Above, we noted that Westbrook's turnovers don't have a direct relationship with Oklahoma City's winning percentage. The team's turnover differential is another matter. The Thunder, who are now 59-29 including the postseason, have a winning percentage of 67 percent. 

Take a look at the chart below. If you break down those wins and losses by turnover differential, you can see that Oklahoma City fared very well when they won the turnover battle by a wide margin. They fared well when they won the turnover battle by a little, or kept it even. And, they played surprisingly well when they committed less than a handful more turnovers than their opponent.

That column on the far right, though, sticks out like a sore thumb and it shouldn't be surprising. In games in which the Thunder committed five or more turnovers than their opponent, their record was just 7-11 (38.9 winning percentage). Game 1 against the Grizzlies, obviously, falls in that category due to the -10.

okc-turnovers
What are the takeaways here? 

First, scapegoating Westbrook is too simple. He needs to do better (and he definitely needs to shoot better, going just 9-for-23 from the field), and his turnovers matter, but they don't directly impact OKC's chances of winning as you might assume. Simply put, if OKC's defense is creating turnovers, Westbrook's errors are a minor factor.  

Second, give credit where credit is due ... to the Grizzlies for protecting the rock. They're especially deadly when they wreak havoc defensively and protect the ball. It's not easy to play gambling, tough-minded defense on one end and under-control, efficient offense on the other. That's what Memphis has been doing in the playoffs, particularly in its last two games.

Third, if OKC can avoid getting clobbered in the turnover differential category -- as they did for a vast majority of the season -- they stand a very good chance of being able to bounce back from a loss that cost them homecourt advantage. The Thunder doesn't need to win the turnover game to win the series, they just need to keep it close, much closer than they did in Game 1.
Posted on: April 30, 2011 4:00 pm
Edited on: April 30, 2011 5:40 pm
 

Series Preview Grizzlies-Thunder: Lightning flash

Posted by Matt Moore




I. Intro

Well, that was exciting, wasn't it? The 8th seed without a single playoff win coming in knocking off the 1 seed with championship history? Great drama. But that's over with. And now the Grizzlies have to turn around and face a Thunder team that took care of its first-round opponent in impressive fashion and has had plenty of time to rest. And by "turn around," I mean literally turn around and head for the airport. After what was likely a pretty raucous celebration on Beale Street Friday night, the Grizzlies will head to Oklahoma City Saturday in advance of a noon tip Sunday. The Thunder will be the heavy favorites. They have the recognized names. They have more experience (slightly). And they're supposed to contend for a title. Basically, everything is stacked against the Grizzlies. 

What else is new?

II. What happened? A Look at the Season Series

Believe it or not, the Grizzlies went 3-1 against the Thunder this year. That's right, the Grizzlies beat the Thunder three to one this season, with a win coming even after the Kendrick Perkins' trade. Most notable was a February tilt where the Grizzlies had played in Memphis against the Lakers and lost the night before. On the second night of a back to back, Memphis went into OKC, in their first game without Rudy Gay (after suffering the shoulder injury vs. L.A. the night before, and beat the Thunder. Tony Allen scored 27 points in that game. Weird things happen.

The consistent themes in the season series were what you'd expect. Zach Randolph and Kevin Durant went off. For two teams that stress defense so much, this wasn't a slugfest. It was a moderate-pace series with high offensive production.  The Grizzlies had a 111.6 offensive efficiency against the Thunder in the four games. That's high. The Thunder haven't been a great defensive team this season and the Grizzlies took advantage of it. The one Grizzlies loss? Kevin Durant dropped 40. 

III. The Easy Stuff: Kevin Durant Will Get His

Kevin Durant is the NBA's scoring leader. So yeah, he's pretty good. And he's going to get his in this series. The Grizzlies will have a similar approach against him as they had against Manu Ginobili. Tony Allen and Shane Battier will both spend time on him. And it won't really matter.  Durant averaged 28.9 points against Allen, shooting 49 percent.  But against Battier, he scored "only" 23.4 points per game, still on 49 percent shooting. Durant is going to draw fouls on Tony Allen, he's going to blow past Shane Battier. He's the best pure scorer in the NBA right now, and he is relentless. The Grizzlies don't have the help defense to shut him down.  He'll get looks from the perimeter. He'll get to the line. He'll get buckets. The question will be if he can go off for 30+ consistently against tough individual defense, which will force the Grizzlies to bring help, opening up opportunities for his teammates. It's not a matter of whether Durant will dominate, it's how and how much. 

IV. Secret of the Series: Just How Good is Kendrick Perkins?

Very good, is the answer to that question. But Perkins is still coming back from serious knee surgery. And he's going to be facing an extremely tough matchup along with Serge Ibaka. Perkins will likely spend the most time against Marc Gasol. Perkins is known as the guy who stopped Dwight Howard, but Gasol is a different type player. Not as athletic or explosive, obviously, but a legit seven-footer with good touch inside and most importantly, a big, burly body that can hammer in the post. 

Serge Ibaka versus Zach Randolph is all sorts of interesting. Randolph struggles against extremely long defenders, which Ibaka definitely fits the bill. But Ibaka can get worked by good post moves, which Z-Bo has, oh, about a billion of. Randolph hooked-and-shook Antonio McDyess, Tim Duncan, and DeJuan Blair, but Ibaka's going to be a younger, tougher matchup. On the other end of it, though, Ibaka's amped-up, emotion-fueled play is going to get frustrated because Randolph? He just scores. By hook or by crook, the guy gets it done, and leaves you wondering how he did it. 

V. The Dinosaur Narrative: Memphis Can't Handle the Pressure

Are you kidding me? The Grizzlies just faced down the 1 seed Spurs. They walked into San Antonio, took Game 1, and haven't lost a home game yet. The only thing that made it a six-game series was a shot even Manu Ginobili deemed "lucky." This team isn't going to be intimidated by any environment, any stakes. After winning their first playoff game ever, then their first playoff game in Memphis? Shane Battier said they're playing with house money. There's zero pressure on the Grizzlies. But how they respond to that is by attacking. 

We're going to be seeing something in this series that should give the NBA and its Board of Governors pause. The crowds will be insane in both houses in this series, in small-market cities that many say don't deserve teams. That insanity is going to fuel cash registers through merchandise, concessions, and season ticket packages. Maybe take a look at how good teams with great fanbases can be instead of teams in high-cost-of-living areas. 

VI. The Line-Item Veto:

PG: Mike Conley held his own against a discombobulated Tony Parker. Russell Westbrook has a chip on his shoulder after a frustrating and disappointing series against the Nuggets. Westbrook will likely see Tony Allen quite a bit, while Conley will have Westbrook attack his dribble to create turnovers. This is a huge advantage for the Thunder... if  Westbrook gets his decision making right. 

SG: Tony Allen thinks he can do too much on offense. But he can produce, and did against the Thunder this year with his season high. Thabo Sefolosha isn't asked to do too much, and he doesn't. But he's a capable defender who will neutralize a lot of the Grizzlies' perimeter opportunities. James Harden and O.J. Mayo is a matchup of two USC guys who can score and who can disappear. That matchup is going to be way bigger than people think. A big swing-vote player in this series? Sam Young, who is really a G/F who can attack at times and then get lost in ISO offense (a more polished Tony Allen, really). 

SF: Durant. Durant Durant. Durant Durant Durant Durant. Kevin Durant. 

PF: Hey, Ibaka is a really fun player. Z-Bo is an All-Star worthy player who just took out the Spurs nearly on his own. Gotta give Z-Bo the nod here. 

C: Call it a wash. Perkins' technique and toughness versus Gasol's size and muscle. 

Bench: The Grizzlies, all of a sudden, have a pretty good bench. Nick Collison versus Darrell Arthur is going to be a fun one to watch, with Nazr Mohammed in there for good measure. Mayo is dangerous but has yet to really go off, though he's been more of a playmaker in the playoffs. The Thunder have a solid bench, but not enough to make this a clear advantage. It's close. 

Coaching: No one expected either of these interim coaches to make it this far, nor to be this good. They both get their teams, and connect with their players. They've both made impressive adjustments in the playoffs. They're both former players with the respect of their organizations, players, and fans. This will be a great matchup. 

VII. Conclusion

Everything points towards a long, tough series. The matchups are actually pretty even. The Thunder have some holes no one is focusing on, and the Grizzlies are really good at exploiting those. The Grizz are over their heads, but playing without pressure. They have some legit stars, but not like OKC does. It looks like it'll be a great series. 

But Memphis... can't possibly... do it again... can they? 

We're going Thunder in five, because of the first game being Sunday at noon, a little over 36 hours from the Grizzlies' biggest game in franchise history. That sets a tone for the series. But as to whether we feel good about it? Well, ask the Spurs. 
Posted on: April 26, 2011 3:11 am
Edited on: April 26, 2011 1:55 pm
 

So, what got into Russell Westbrook?

Posted by Royce Young



There were a lot of stories to come out of Monday night's 104-101 Denver win over Oklahoma City. The fact the Thunder didn't close the series. The fact the Nuggets snapped a five-game losing streak to OKC. The fact Denver finally found some of that scary scoring balance again.

But the angle that has a lot of people talking? Russell Westbrook.

The Thunder's All-Star point guard scored 30 points, had five assists and six rebounds against Denver Monday. If you changed his name to Derrick Rose, everyone would promptly freak out. The catch here is two-fold: Westbrook took 30 shots and he also has this dude named Kevin Durant on his team.

Two plays stick out to a lot of people from Monday's game. With 30 seconds left and OKC trailing 98-96, Westbrook wasn't able to get the ball to Durant on the wing so with the shot clock winding down, Westbrook fired a 3. It rimmed out. Then with the Thunder down 101-98 and needing a 3 to tie with 10 seconds left, Westbrook took the ball on his own and airballed a 3-pointer with six seconds left as Durant stood waiting by the arc.

Curious, indeed.

Westbrook was 12-30 from the field while Durant was 8-18. Russell Westbrook took 12 more shots than the two-time scoring champion.

Curious, indeed.

However, having watched Westbrook a lot of this season, I can't bag on him too much for it. That's the player he is. If you want the All-Star Good Russell Westbrook, sometimes you have to live with the do-it-myself Bad Russell Westbrook.

I think a big reason behind Westbrook's ball-hogging was he sensed what I was seeing. The Thunder didn’t look comfortable in their own offensive skin. They were throwing the ball away, taking dumb shots, forcing things and not moving off the ball. So he tried to take over a bit. A lot of the stagnant offense is probably the fault of the point guard, but Westbrook is the new hybrid point like Derrick Rose and Deron Williams. He looks for his own as much as he looks for others.

And it’s difficult for Westbrook to turn it on in spurts. That’s would be the ideal Westbrook. The guy that can sense that moment where his team needs his offensive spark and give it for a few minutes and then turn the game back over to the natural rhythm and flow. But he’s not there yet. He’s just 22 and he’s still figuring all that out.

Thing is, to get Good Russ, sometimes you live with Bad Russ. He’s not a perfect player. He’s still developing. This wasn’t his finest hour but he was trying to win the game. That’s what he had on his mind. Did Durant need a few more touches? Absolutely. Does Westbrook deserve a bit of guff for what went down in Game 4? Definitely. But this isn't something to really get too worked over about. Yeah he took some questionable shots but that's Westbrook. He desperately wants to be the guy taking those shots. He's hit a bunch of big ones for the Thunder this season and I can promise you, every Thunder fan thought his 3 with 30 seconds left was about to drop through the bottom of the net.

In the same ways you can say Westbrook lost Game 4 for the Thunder, he almost won it for them as well. That's life in the Russell Lane. There are things he definitely should've done different. If Scott Brooks could transfer five of those bad Westbrook shots to Durant, the Thunder probably win the game. Can't deny that.

Westbrook is the ultimate "No No No Yes Yes Yes!" player. He takes a bunch of shots that while in flight you're saying are horrible but then you're clapping as it swishes through. And in those big moments, he lives to take big shots. The problem with that is, he has Kevin Durant standing on the wing waiting for the ball as well.

With Westbrook, it's all about accepting what he is. It's like the scene in Band of Brothers when Speirs tells that one guy crying in the foxhole, "The only hope you have is to accept the fact that you're already dead. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you'll be able to function." Westbrook isn't a "true" point guard. He never will be. The sooner you accept that fact, the sooner you'll be able to appreciate what he is. A darn good basketball player that still has some room to grow.
 
 
 
 
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