With a 3-0 lead, it's about time for the Thunder to finish up the first round and look forward to the next series. Even with Russell Westbrook out for the remainder of the playoffs, OKC should be able to put together a good enough performance within the next one or two games to finish off an inexperienced Rockets team. But what do we have to look forward to in the next round?
The next series will give us either the Grizzlies or the Clippers, both of which are in a heated battle that will most likely go the full seven games. Before 'The Injury', I would have easily picked the Clippers over the Grizzlies to see in the second round. The Clippers are basically the same type of team as the Thunder, with scoring at the forefront, but we have always been able to keep the stars in check enough to get past the hurdle. On the other hand, the Grizzlies are easily one of the most difficult opponents the Thunder face each year, who's defense is able to give us serious fits. Every game in recent memory has been a toss-up.
But with Westbrook out, I'm not so sure I'd like to see the Clippers. The key to the Clippers is Chris Paul, quite possibly the best point guard on the planet right now. He is the leader, and as long as he feels in control, he can will his team through any opponent. Westbrook has been that guy who has been able to keep CP3 out of his comfort zone though, with a Honey Badger style defense that is constantly in the opponents face. Sure, Westbrook doesn't do everything, but he is the catalyst against this offense. Without our honey badger, Paul will be able to impose his will upon the Thunder much easier, and I'm not sure we have someone that can stay in his head all night. Plus, without the offensive output we would normally receive from our co-leader, I don't see how we can keep up with the Clippers offense.
The Grizzlies, on the other hand, don't have that one guy that can take over. Sure, they have the best defense in the league, and two amazing big men in Gasol and Randolph, but our big men have always been able to give those guys enough problems that they cannot be relied upon at all times. Without Westbrook, our focus needs to shift more towards defense, and our defense would be able to handle the Grizzlies offense better than the Clippers, who have too much talent and a much deeper bench.
I think what it comes down to is who we match up better with now. The Grizzlies have never been known for their offense, and aside from their two big men don't have many offensive options. So it will come down to a defensive battle, which the Thunder will be able to handle better than a shoot-out. I'm not saying that we would win a series against the Grizzlies sans Westbrook, just that it may be the easier path to the Finals considering the options.
Honestly, without Westbrook at the helm, I'm not sure we are going to be favored against either opponent. Durant can't do 40+ points a game every night (well, maybe he can?), and being able to replicate Westbrook's offensive and defensive intensity, while not completely impossible, will be difficult considering that it has to be found so late in the year. We'll just have to wait until we know who the Thunder's next opponent will be, and hope we can find a way to continue this season.
Who do you think the Thunder would have a better chance of getting past in the second round? Do you think that the Thunder can make it back to the WCF, or are we unmatched against either opponent now? Sound off in the comments!