It's almost impossible to write a column about last night's game, for it was the most frustrating of losses. All of the pieces were in place. Scott Brooks finally played Ibaka and Collison together. He limited Perk's minutes when he was ineffective. He even went small and threw the Grizzlies for a loop in the final minutes. On the player's end, things were similarly optimistic. They managed to move the ball, keeping turnovers low and shot attempts clean. They played excellent defense, keeping the Grizzlies to low percentage almost universally. They even managed to dominate the bigger Grizzlies on the offensive boards.
What went wrong?
Well, the Thunder missed too many shots. Yep, it's the biggest cliche in the book. But every player not named Derek Fisher was just blowing great opportunities. It wasn't only in terms of shooting, as I saw a few different players wait too long to make passes on the break.
Thus, I'm left to pine at cliches. Are the Thunder just not playing with a lot of confidence? I saw players pass up on shots quote a few times last night. Is it a lack of experience? Reggie Jackson is a second year player. Ibaka's just learned how to shoot. Kevin Martin hasn't been in a playoff game since 2006. Maybe it's a lack of talent? After all, there's no question that everybody on the Thunder's supporting cast isn't as talented as Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant.
But let's set aside the cliches for a moment. The loss last night is in the past, and it was by no means embarrassing. Instead, let's look to the future. The Thunder are only down 2-1, and they have as good of a chance as anyone to grab three more victories. Here's a list of five reasons why.
1. The Grizzlies haven't shot over 43% in the series. This is a team that simply doesn't have a lot of offensive firepower. Their low-post options are reliable, but they lack perimeter shooters and their guards like to take gambles. Sometimes, they simply run out of options and jack up bad shots. In other words, the Thunder, who are capable of having stellar offensive nights, will have a night where their offense is just too much to the Grizzlies to handle. It's inevitable.
2. It can't get much worse for Serge Ibaka and Kevin Martin. One fact that's often overlooked is that the Thunder are staying competitive with the Grizzlies while their second and third best scorers are having some of the worst games of their careers. If they just could pull off average nights, the Thunder would dominate this series.
3. The Grizzlies can't go small and win. It's true that the Grizzlies went small to compete with the Thunder at the end, and basically grinded the game out by defensively matching up. But over an extended period of time, there's no way they'd be able to compete. The Grizzly wings are too one-dimensional offensively to provide the kind of scoring power that they need against the Thunder, and Scott Brooks realizes this. Definitely look for more game-changing small lineups in Game 4.
4. The Thunder have two of the greatest closers in the NBA right now. It'd be hard to come up with a list of guys you'd want taking a last second shot over Kevin Durant and Derek Fisher. Both of these guys are just unbelievable at hitting shots when it really matters, and that's going to matter in this series. Granted, Kevin Durant has seen his performance suffer when he plays for too many minutes, but he's overcome the exhaustion before.
5. The Thunder have done it once before. Down 2-1 in the 2011 Western Conference Semi-Finals, the Thunder managed to grind their way to a triple overtime win in the FedEx Forum. They missed several opportunities to close the game out, but kept their focus and won in the end. They would go on to win the series in 7 games.
Yeah, I know, this post isn't the most analytical in the world, and it glosses over a lot of things. But not much has changed in this series from game-to-game, and I feel like we all need something to get us through the day. Because no matter how much national analysts will continue to trumpet the Grizzlies, the Thunder have proven and can prove that they're capable of winning this series. All they need right now is just a little more execution.
Do you have any thoughts after last night's loss? Let us know in the comments!