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Collison's success at containing Z-Bo big boost for OKC

by | CBSSports.com Staff Writer
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Scott Brooks put it simply in his pre-game address to reporters.

"You're not going to stop Zach," he said matter-of-factly. Zach, of course, being Zach Randolph, the man that terrorized the Thunder for 34 points and 10 rebounds in Memphis's Game 1 victory.

Kevin Durant even called Randolph the best power forward in the league after the game. It seemed settled right there: You're not slowing down No. 50 in blue.

Maybe Brooks was playing coy with his revamped game plan. Maybe he was just sandbagging. But the Thunder adjusted and adapted to the Grizzlies' inside attack and basically shut it entirely down, evening the series with Memphis at 1 with a 111-102 victory in Oklahoma City.

It was obvious from the opening possession. In Game 1, Randolph was given space. He responded by dropping his from-the-rafters jumper over and again right in Serge Ibaka's face. On Tuesday, Ibaka opened the game inside Randolph's jersey. The Thunder committed to giving Randolph no space to operate and daring him to either dribble and bull his way to the basket, or pass the ball out.

Grizzlies-Thunder: Game 2
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It worked. Randolph didn't score a basket in the second half and was only 2 of 13 for 15 points. He and Marc Gasol combined for 54 points and 23 rebounds in Game 1. On Tuesday, that was slashed to 28 and 19.

"We knocked him off his spots," Brooks said. "The defensive effort for the first three quarters was about as well as anybody can play on Zach."

Thought you couldn't stop him?

Ibaka was the man charged with the assignment of containing Randolph, but it was Nick Collison who came off the bench and turned in an inspiring defensive effort on the Grizzlies power forward. While Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 50 points and the Thunder bench added 48, Game 2's game ball has to go to Collison.

"They did an unbelievable job. Nick Collison did a great job of fighting him all night," Durant said. "That is what we are going to need for the rest of the series."

Collison has become a bit of an advanced statistics folk hero, building up gaudy plus/minus stats while producing ordinary to sometimes ugly traditional box score numbers. Against Memphis on Tuesday? He scored seven points and grabbed seven rebounds in 25 minutes. Not bad. But during his time on the floor, he was a game-best plus-15.

It's all about the little things with Collison. Taking charges, setting good screens, tipping a rebound -- doesn't matter what it is, it might not add up to pretty-looking stats. But for the most part, it often adds up to a victory.

"He's a winner. He's all about making winning basketball plays," Brooks said.

The winning plays he made Tuesday came in the form of shoving Randolph as much as possible without getting caught. He bumped, grabbed and fought for position every moment he was on the floor. Ibaka sat to start the second half because of a stinger in his right knee, so Collison started in his steed. Collison played the entire third quarter and almost 20 second-half minutes, never leaving Randolph one inch or one second to breathe.

"The key to the game was Nick Collison. The way he played was outstanding," Kendrick Perkins said. "Nick did what he do. He frustrated Randolph. Played great defense on him."

The Thunder played with their back against the wall Tuesday, knowing they absolutely could not afford to go to Memphis down 0-2 and expect to advance on. Game 2 wasn't an elimination affair, but it might as well been. Durant felt strongly after Game 1 that the team lacked energy and effort. It was obvious early on that wouldn't be a problem in this one.

Memphis coach Lionel Hollins recognized it saying it was a "classic, desperate" performance by OKC. It was certainly that, but it was also just better. The Thunder's interior defense lived up to its billing, the team shot 52.8 percent and behind major contributions off the bench from James Harden (21 points, compared to only five in Game 1) and Eric Maynor (15 including 3 for 4 from 3-point range), OKC looked like that team again that scared everyone to death against the Nuggets.

It's doubtful the Thunder can count on the hot shooting to continue or for Maynor to score as much as Randolph, but what they hope they can rely on is that signature, calling-card defense.

But it's only one and OKC still conceded home-court advantage with that Game 1 loss Sunday. Can the Thunder duplicate this performance again on Saturday when things turn to the FedEx Forum? Will the Thunder bench show up a second time? Can OKC stop Randolph again?

Scott Brooks will probably go ahead and say no to the last one. I know I would. It worked the last time.

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