Thunder-Grizzlies Game 5: Can Memphis close out?
A preview of Wednesday night's Game 5 between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies.
1. Where We Are: Memphis is closing in on its first Western Conference finals appearance in franchise history. The Thunder are closing in on the end of what became a miserable campaign after Russell Westbrook's injury.
The Grizzlies lead 3-1 after three consecutive nailbiter victories. Tellingly, the Grizzlies didn't even play very well in Memphis during Games 3 and 4. Those games were right there for the Thunder to steal, but they couldn't close. So now the Thunder return to Oklahoma City, where they've been so good in the playoffs historically, trying to stave off elimination.
The Thunder could feel pretty good knowing that, had even a few things gone their way, they could be up 3-1 or even have swept. But they have to feel really lousy, given that they, you know, didn't.
But Memphis has to close out a team with Kevin Durant on the road. Have they really matured enough to do that? We'll find out Wednesday.
2. The Big Number: +17/-17. The Grizzlies are +17 in third quarters in this series, the Thunder -17. The Thunder build a lead, halftime comes, the Grizzlies adapt, the Grizzlies win the quarter and then out-grit the Thunder to close out the game. The two teams are actually even in fourth quarters after the Thunder's comeback in Game 1 and the Grizzlies' comeback in Game 4.
The Thunder have to come out of halftime with energy and focus. They need to build a lead big enough to discourage the Grizzlies from mounting a comeback. This has been a strength of Memphis all season, as their defense just clamps on in third quarters. These games have been tight at the end of the fourth, but that can be traced to the third.
3. Key Adjustment: This Derek Fisher, Kendrick Perkins nonsense must stop for the Thunder. Nick Collison, despite fouling out, was superb in Game 4 and was almost the difference in a Thunder win. The Thunder need a shooter who can actually defend, like Thabo Sefolosha. Fisher takes wild shots in bad situations and can't defend, Perkins is just ... yuck.
It's time for Scott Brooks to throw out the book on veteran leadership and toughness, and actually play the best players.
4. The Big Story: Is Memphis ready to take that next step? The Thunder are without Westbrook but are still a dangerous team and have the best player in the series. Are the Grizzlies really good enough to end Durant's season on the road? This would be a massive step forward for a franchise that doesn't exactly have a long standing history of success.
The opportunity is there, but the Grizzlies have to take it, and they have to take it on the road in the Thunderdome.
5. The Facts: 9:30 p.m. ET tipoff. All players except Westbrook are healthy and expected to be avalilable.
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