Posted on: April 30, 2011 4:00 pm
Edited on: April 30, 2011 5:40 pm
Posted by Matt Moore
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.
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.
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
Posted on: October 19, 2010 9:43 pm
Posted by Royce Young
Basically, Durant requested that Thabo and Nenad be on the cover with him because “they don’t get a lot of pub.” Durant even indicated that he wouldn’t have posed for the cover if those two guys weren’t included with him.
This guy Durant. What more can you say? I mean, sheesh.
My theory was that the team pushed for the lower profile players to join Durant. I should've known it was KD. While the organization pushes the team concept hard, it all starts with its star. Durant has been as much a part of developing the culture and philosophy within the Thunder organization as anyone. He understands what it takes to be a teammate. In his mind, he's not the star of the Thunder. He's just a leader.
Durant has a point too. Sefolosha is one of the league's most underrated defenders (second-team All-Defense last season) and a terrific role player. Sefolosha is the backbone of one of the league's finest defensive units. Krstic is a player that isn't necessarily a terrific talent, but he fits in with the Thunder well as a pick-and-pop center and has no qualms quietly sitting back and being a fourth or fifth option. And KD appreciates that.
I kind of recall Durant doing a similar thing when he was at Texas with teammates and a magazine cover. He didn't want to be singled out. It's just who he is. Some guys can preach team and togetherness, but Durant lives it. He talks the talk and definitely walks the walk.
And at no point during this Summer of Durant where he's won the media over with a simple tweet and brilliant performance at the World Championships have we reached an oversaturation point. I think a lot of that is because he's not the one pushing for the spotlight. I'm not saying Tim Tebow did, but people grew sick of him because he completely embraced his attention. He bathed in the spotlight. And for good reasons too. He had a message he wanted to get across and the national attention just helped him do it. But it made us all want to throw up when we heard his name.
Durant has no motive with his humble decisions. He's not trying to win fans with them. He may be trying to be a role model, but that's not his priority. He's doing what he thinks is the right thing. He's just being a good teammate. It's something he lives by and in the Kevin Durant world, the best PR doesn't come from handlers or publicists. It just comes from KD naturally being KD.
Posted on: October 19, 2010 1:29 pm
Edited on: October 19, 2010 1:43 pm
Posted by Royce Young
When Sports Illustrated leaked its NBA preview issue cover this morning, there were two big surprises: 1) There wasn't a glimpse of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James or Chris Bosh anywhere to be seen on it and 2) it featured Kevin Durant and... Nenad Krstic and Thabo Sefolosha?
Kevin Durant, we all get. No qualms or questions there. But Krstic and Sefolosha? Where's Russell Westbrook, a player whose star is increasing by the day? Or Jeff Green, one of the de facto faces of the franchise? Or even James Harden who is a major part of the Thunder youth movement? Those guys are the obvious candidates, not a guy that's noted for his tough perimeter defense and another that became famous for throwing a chair in someone's face this summer.
But as someone that resides in Oklahoma City and that has followed the Thunder franchise pretty closely since it moved here, I think I have an explanation. Or at least a theory. The Thunder wanted the cover that way.
Obviously Sports Illustrated takes the picture, but the Thunder probably pushed having Sefolosha and Krstic in the picture with KD. Why? Because it just reinforces the philosophy of the franchise. It's not about one guy or even three guys. It's about every player, even down to the training camp invite that's probably not going to make the team.
Every team preaches that idea. But the Thunder lives by it and not just for reasons on the floor. For instance, in my travels in Oklahoma City, I can recall only one, maybe two, major Thunder advertisements featuring Durant. You'd think every single Thunder thing would have his face and his face only all over it. But there are major billboards that have Serge Ibaka and Eric Maynor together on it. There's even one with bench scrubs Byron Mullens and D.J. White. In the Thunder's practice facility, there's not any individual pictures or accomplishments to be found. There's one big banner that has a photo of the team in a huddle.
It a culture that's being built by the front office. And while it's good motivation for what happens on the court, it's also a marketing strategy off it.
The Thunder's goal is to not be Oklahoma City's professional sports franchise and something that's entertainment for residents. They aim to be part of the community. I'm not talking about just making school appearances and stuff. I'm talking about like being the local YMCA. These are professional athletes, these are citizens of your city.
One of the reasons they market the team and not individuals is because of long-term planning. Just in the same way Sam Presti has built the Thunder roster through patience and planning, the organization wants to build the fanbase the same way. For an eight-year-old, Kevin Durant won't be here in 15 years when he's thinking about buying season tickets. The Thunder wants to build a brand that appeals to that eight-year-old now and not just market a cool player to look up to. Because players come and go. The organization doesn't. (Well, shouldn't. Don't throw things at me Seattle readers.)
The organization wants to make it cool to be a Thunder fan, not just a Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook fan. Obviously the players are a major part of it, but little things like putting two role playing non-stars on the cover of a major magazine is just something that's not surprising with this organization. It all starts with the stars, but they're not anymore important than the last player on the bench.
It's about brand management for the long haul. Kind of the opposite of what the Heat are doing now. The Heat introduced their new Big 3 together at a huge party, as if they're the only three players on the team. But what happens when their contracts are up and they move on? The Heat are building a brand based off three players, not off the entire Miami Heat team. It's a different approach and one that works for a major market, but for a small community driven market like Oklahoma City, it's always team first, individuals, well, never.
It helps that the Thunder's star is as bought in to the team concept as the organization. Reportedly, Durant was going to be on the cover by himself but demanded he have a couple teammates on there with them. Maybe he specifically asked for Thabo and Nenad. Maybe that's all that was available. Or maybe the team sent them. Who knows. But this team concept thing helps when the guy that would be getting all the attention defers to the same philosophy as the franchise.
There's a line in an episode of Seinfeld where Jerry is talking to George and mentions how silly professional sports kind of are, mentioning that really, we're just rooting for laundry. And it's like the Thunder had made that its mantra. They want their fans to root for the laundry, not the guys wearing it.
Posted on: September 24, 2010 6:49 pm
Edited on: September 25, 2010 10:29 pm
Posted by Royce Young
Over the summer, the Thunder quickly became an "it" team. Behind Kevin Durant's humble contract extension, the team's pushing of the Lakers in the first round, Durant and Russell Westbrook's performances in Turkey and the additions to the roster, expectations are high. But there are still questions for camp. What about Jeff Green? He didn't get an extension this summer. Could that upset the normally stellar chemistry of the Thunder? Or how about James Harden? Can he steal the starting job from Thabo Sefolosha?
Training camp site: Edmond, OK
Training camp starts: Sept. 28
Key additions: Cole Aldrich (draft), Morris Peterson (trade), Daequan Cook (trade)
Key subtractions: Um, Etan Thomas? (free agent), Ron Adams (assistant coach moved to Chicago), Rich Cho (now GM of Blazers)
Likely starting lineup: Russell Westbrook, PG; Thabo Sefolosha, SG; Kevin Durant, SF; Jeff Green, PF; Nenad Krstic, C
Player to watch: All eyes will surely be on Kevin Durant who has received as much offseason hype as any player. But there are two guys to keep an eye on in Thunder camp: Serge Ibaka and James Harden. Those two player will be as key to OKC's success as anyone. Both are immensely talented and both are expected to take big steps forward this season. Training camp is a chance for both to earn extra minutes, and maybe starting spots.
Chemistry quiz: There probably isn't a team in the league with as much real chemistry as the Thunder. They hang together, play video games together, go see movies together and in general, are all friends. Any time new faces are added to it, there's a small question as to how they'll fit in, but young guys like Cole Aldrich and Daequan Cook shouldn't have any issues.
However, mainstay Jeff Green has a contract extension hanging over his head right now. While Kevin Durant got paid over the summer, buddy Green did not. Thunder management is looking for Green to prove his worth this season and while Green is a great teammate, it could potentially become an issue.
Camp battles: The Thunder are pretty set in their ways right now, having started the same five in all but six games last season. But James Harden could push Thabo Sefolosha for the starting 2-guard spot. A big camp that showcases improvements on the defensive end could earn Harden the minutes. Also, Scott Brooks prefers to play just nine and right now, the Thunder's rotation appears set. So how does Cole Aldrich earn minutes in that group?
Injury watch: Nenad Krstic is out after having surgery on a finger. This is a big chance for Aldrich, Serge Ibaka and second-year player Byron Mullens to potentially make a case for more playing time.
Biggest strength: Talent. This Thunder group is full of ability. In every sense of the word too. Athleticism, speed, skill - you name it. Still one of the youngest rosters in the league this group aged and matured a hundred years worth with its baptism by fire against the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. Some might think they're still inexperienced, but after Russell Westbrook and Durant's maturation in Turkey and over the summer, these guys are ready.
Glaring weakness: Interior size. The jury is still out on Jeff Green's power forwardness. Aldrich helps, but he's a raw rookie. Ibaka came a long way but he's likely not ready to start. Krstic is a finesse big man that doesn't rebound. Nick Collison is a scrapper, but undersized to play big at center. The Thunder rebounds as a team and actually led the league in blocks last year, but against the giants in the West like the Lakers, size could be a problem.