When we last checked in with Kevin Lipe at Grizzly Bear Blues, the series was all tied up at 1-1 and we Thunder hopeful were ready to enter the Grind House to see if the Thunder could steal one on Memphis' home court. They came close. Oh, so close. It didn't happen though, so now we are left with a Game 5 elimination game, a situation where the Thunder have to find it within themselves to keep fighting. Here are my questions for Kevin.
(To see my answers to his questions, go HERE)
1) In the first half of game 4, the Thunder finally seemed to figure out an offensive rhythm that had been absent prior. What did you see that they were doing differently that enabled them to build a double digit lead, and what adjustments did the Grizzlies make to deaden the Thunder's offensive impact, which enabled the comeback?
Serge Ibaka finally returned from the dead on offense. Instead of Ibaka guarding Randolph and Perkins guarding Gasol, Brooks switched the two, and whatever the reason, that seemed to free Ibaka up to start getting his shot working again. You knew, as poorly as he had been shooting, that he was bound to return to his averages at some point. He's simply too good of a player not to. Ibaka's output combined with the consistently good (in this series) output from Martin and Durant to put the Thunder over the top.
That, and rebounding. The Grizzlies continue to be unable to stop these smaller Thunder lineups from getting rebounds, especially offensive rebounds.
2) We both have noted that Marc Gasol passes up a considerable number of open looks at the top of the key, and the Thunder are giving him that shot most of the time. I think his reluctance to consistently look for that shot keeps him a level below Tim Duncan-like production, and to be able to do so without taking anything away from the rest of the offense. Do you agree or disagree?
I think he's a better passer than Duncan. Yeah, I said it. I think if he were to take some of those shots instead of passing out of those situations-or to drive to the basket when he's isolated on Kevin Durant late in games instead of waiting for Thunder help to arrive and then passing out of the post (drives me CRAZY and he's been doing it all series)-it wouldn't necessarily take anything away from the offense. If anything it'd make life easier for Zach Randolph because defenders would have to respect Gasol's shot even more than they already do.
3) Who do you see as an X-factor for the Grizzlies in Game 5, a player who is due for a breakout game that could carry the Grizzlies to a series win? Who do you think the Thunder have, who could offer the same unexpected performance?
Tayshaun Prince has been terrible on offense for most of the playoffs. He started to find his sea legs shooting-wise in Game 4, but not really. I'd love to see him knock down some jumpers in Game 5 to force the Thunder to respect him a little more. The Grizzlies need every extra inch of floor spacing they can get.
On the Thunder side, I think Reggie Jackson is a really good basketball player, and I think he plays like it's his last game every night. At least, that's what I've seen from him in this series. He makes some dumb plays at times (young guys tend to do that) but one of these games he's going to go off. It just feels like it's fated to happen, to me anyway.
4) What is your prediction for Game 5? Do you think the series will end in OKC, or are we in for another intense game in the Grind House?
I don't know. The Thunder will be in front of their home fans, and they have nothing to lose-it's win or go home for the summer. As close as all of the games in this series have been, I wouldn't be surprised at all if the Thunder are able to hold off the Grizzlies and stave off elimination. But I don't think the Thunder would make it out of a Game 6 at the Grindhouse intact. I don't know who would, at this point.
I also wouldn't be surprised if the Grizzlies come out and burn the Thunder to the ground. Lionel Hollins seems to have found some things in the end of Game 4 that really worked-especially that Mike Conley/Jerryd Bayless/Tony Allen three guard lineup--and made the difference in reeling the Thunder in. So maybe he has them figured out.
It's why they play the games, right?
Many thanks once again to Kevin, and let's hope we have the opportunity for one more of these Q&A's.