Grading an epic series between the Thunder and Grizzlies.
Posted by Matt Moore
Here are grades for the grueling seven-game series between the Thunder and Grizzlies that brought us the hero James Harden, a grueling triple-overtime, and the continuing legends of Zach Randolph and Kevin Durant.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Kevin Durant: An up-and-down series for the scoring champ. When he was good, he was superb. When he was bad, his team was sunk. Durant had a few bad games in this series and that went a long way in driving the series to seven games despite the Thunder matchup advantages. He was superb in Game 7 though, as expected, working off-ball to get his game back on track after a rough start. Durant's ability to draw fouls went a long way in this series, as the Grizzlies could seemingly do nothing defensively without collecting fouls. Throw in his leadership and you have a good series, obviously, with the win, but also one that brought questions about his ability to create space and get the ball. If Russell Westbrook caught flak for being too aggressive, Durant quietly started establishing questions about not being enough so. But again, a win is a win and Durant was a huge part of it.
Russell Westbrook: Our own Royce Young will be happy to tell you about how Westbrook wasn't any different in this series than he ever has been, and that too much of the blame was put on Westbrook for his play. But the issue with Westbrook isn't that he's not getting the ball to Durant. That's on Durant. The problem is that too often Westbrook goes to his own playbook, his own aggressivness. He forces drives that end in charges, he elects for the jumper with slashers going to the rim, he lacks the patience to reset the offense. But all of those negative things don't change the fact that the biggest reason the Thunder won this series was Russell Westbrook and his undaunted assault on the rim. Westbrook knew the Grizzlies had no option to contain him on the perimeter, and attacked relentelessly. If that was sometimes to a fault, it shouldn't outweigh how good he was in finishing and piling up easy points at the rim. Westbrook closed with a triple-double on a bad shooting night, but amassing tons of rebounds on both sides of the floor and getting teammates involved. Did Westbrook cost the Thunder two games? Probably. But they wouldn't have won the four they did without him.
James Harden: James Harden had the series of his life. He's been en fuego since the trade deadline, and stepped it up in this series. If the Thunder couldn't have won without Westbrook, Harden was a close second. Knocking down 3s, driving, collecting fouls, stealing the ball, and being a distributor, which is huge, especialy when Westbrook is in hero mode. The Grizzlies had no cover for Harden. When he started to insert himself in the series, that was when it changed.
Nick Collison: They kept talking about how he's Mr. Intangibles, but Collison's production was pretty tangible. Rebounds, blocks, and missed field goals for Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Collison did the job Ibaka could not, taking the Grizzlies' dominance inside away. Again, as the series progressed, he took over. The Grizzlies' biggest advantage was inside, and Collison negated it. Huge minutes from the former Jayhawk. If he can keep that up against Dirk... yeah, just kidding. But seriously, good series.
Scott Brooks: Failed to get final possessions set up well. Failed to get Westbrook in line. Failed to create an offense with cohesion outside of "run fast at the rim and either score or get fouled." Failed to give Harden significant minutes over Thabo until the end. Got the win. Scott Brooks is an incredible developmental coach and defensive mind. But this series may have begun the question about whether he can be the guy, should the Thunder not win the title. But hey, win and no one will care.
Thunder Crowd: Phenomenal, as always. Many people questioned whether OKC's crowd would be any good when they moved from the vaunted Seattle fanbase. Instead, the Thunder crowd are showing the greatness of small market crowds who are rabid, early, and loud, every game, every minute. Standing ovation for their standing ovation.
Zach Randolph: Randolph had two huge games, Game 1 and Game 6, where he won the game nearly by himself. He was a monster in those games. In the others? He struggled. His inability to adjust to the officiating or create space, or find Marc Gasol when the double came hurt the Grizzlies. Randolph was the focal point of the defense and still produced, but you still walk away feeling like if he could have been a little more efficient, it would have been enough for Memphis to advance in the West. Shouldn't take away what has been an incredible postseason from him.
Mike Conley: Conley is in a rough spot with Memphis. He's relied upon to hit shots from the perimeter when no one else can, but not take too many shots. He needs to distribute, but if others aren't hitting, he has to score. He gets killed for being a defensive liability but has to guard the second best player on each team. Conley needed to be flawless for this series. He wasn't. He was average. Which isn't bad, it just wasn't enough for Memphis to overcome the mismatches.
Marc Gasol: Where did the beast go? OKC was able to hammer Gasol time and time again and without getting the calls, Gasol couldn't respond. Perkins and Ibaka contributing on offense reflects badly, but more importantly the work done on the offensive glass really takes the wind out of what was his coming out party.
O.J. Mayo: Step on up trade partners! Mayo had a phenomenal playoff series, and was the biggest reason the Grizzlies forced this to seven games. He did fantastic work, and actually won the matchup with Harden until Game 4. If Mayo's still on the market, he's going to elicit some big offers this summer. A great comeback story for Memphis, and parallels the city and team's resilience.
Lionel Hollins: Hollins had no advantages outside of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and that was slim. He faced an uphill battle these entire playoffs and took the 8th seed to a seventh game against a star studded young team after a grueling first round series against the best team in the West record-wise. He had the Grizzlies respond to a Game 5 beatdown to force Game 7 despite every reason to quit. Hollins made mistakes trusting Sam Young too much and not reigning in Tony Allen's offense. But he did a phenomenal job getting the team this far.
Game 4: A triple-overtime thriller between two great small-market teams with young rosters, giving everything they got. We had ten great moments from it. There could have been 20 more. Arguably the best game of the playoffs.