Thunder-Grizzlies Game 4: Memphis takes advantage of rare opportunity

By Matt Moore | NBA writer

The Grizzlies have made the most of their situation.   (Getty Images)
The Grizzlies have made the most of their situation. (Getty Images)

What's Memphis supposed to do, turn the wins back in?

The minute Russell Westbrook went down with knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus, seven other Western Conference teams thought the same thing, "the window is open." The West is still brutal. But the loss of a top-ten, arguably top-five player meant that OKC was at least theoretcally vulnerable. Remove the top seed and any team thinks they have a shot, especially given the Spurs' playoff struggles since 2009.

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So now the Grizzlies, after vanquishing their bitter rival in the Clippers, found themselves agianst a weakened Thunder team. The series has been brutal and close, with each game coming down to the wire. It's enough to make you think that had the Thunder not lost Westbrook, they'd make quick work of the Thunder. That Memphis would have put up a fight but found out the Thunder just had too many weapons.

But the Thunder don't have Russell Westbrook.

We can forgive the Thunder for their struggles, for Kevin Durant's late game foibles, for their at-times anemic offensive performance in key moments and understand that they are caused by Westbrook's absence and still acknowledge that you still have to go and take these games from the Thunder, from Kevin Durant. We can consider the Grizzlies to be putting together an impressive show of resiliency and execution without ignoring the injury. But injuries happen, especially in this postseason.

Memphis didn't choose a Thunder team without Westbrook. They advanced and have taken a 3-1 lead over the team they advanced to play. Luck is an integral part of any playoff run. You need luck in-game and out, you need luck against bad calls and bad decisions and most of all you need luck against injuries. That the Thunder have not had that luck with them this offseason is not a sign of the weakness of their team, it is just how things go, as they go for so many teams.

The Grizzlies have had things break their way, but tomorrow, an injury could derail them. Bad calls or bad shots could help the Thunder storm back and win the series. In the playoffs, there are no hypotheticals. There are only results, and at some point, you have to trust in your process because you can't trust in luck to sustain you.

So yes, the Thunder would likely theoretically be up in this series if they had Russell Westbrook. But Westbrook went down and the window opened. And through four games, the Memphis Grizzlies have hurtled themselves through it, with one more to go to reach the Conference Finals.

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