Even the greatest of crowds can't overcome huge deficiencies on the floor. In no game did this ring truer than tonight, where the Memphis Grizzlies invaded Oklahoma City and proceeded to stomp all over the Thunder.
Before I get started, I think it might be pertinent to look at the checklist I wrote stating what might be necessary in order to win this series.
1. Shot down Marc Gasol. Shutting down their #2 option could be the quickest and easiest key to victory.
FAILED. Gasol had his second highest scoring game of the playoffs, and his mid-range jumpers were particularly deadly late in the game. He could just step out of the scrum down low, unnoticed, and get a wide open shot whenever he wanted. I saw him outwit Perkins several times when cleaning up baskets and he was excellent at keeping the offensive flow of the game going while standing at the top of the key.
2. Don't get caught up in bad trap plays on the perimeter, and remember to guard Tony Allen.
FAILED. Tony Allen didn't explode on us as he had in the past, but the combined 29 points and 12-26 shooting from Allen, Young, and Battier was essential to the Grizzlies win. Whether they simply took advantage of a trap play or the Thunder falling asleep on a backdoor cut, their offense was efficient and deadly.
3. Limit Westbrook's turnovers in any way possible. Conley will eat those right up.
FAILED. Yet again, Westbrook had 7 turnovers. Memphis was prepared for every single move Westbrook wanted to make. Conley was constantly looking to steal the ball, and when Westbrook drove to the lane, Conley would actually let Westbrook get around him. Conley would them proceed to come at Westbrook from behind, while a big man came from the post and a swingman came from the wing to encircle him. Sometimes, Westbrook would break through this wall of defense and grab some well-earned points. But other times, Westbrook would commit a terrible turnover while ignoring two open men. All in all, Conley forced Westbrook to do exactly what he needed him to.
Below: #4 and 5, What Else the Thunder Failed to Do, What the Thunder Need to Do to Win Game 2, Awards!
4. Use the Thunder's bench depth to their advantage. Especially big man depth.
MINOR SUCCESS. Nick Collison was a great asset in this game. He didn't completely shut down the Grizzlies, but he worked for points and slowed down their defense. In all honesty, I'm surprised he didn't play more. Nazr Mohammed only played for one spurt in the game, but his time defensively was solid.
5. Don't be afraid to mess with lineups a little bit. The Grizzlies have beaten us three times this season for a reason.
FAILURE. The starters played heavy, heavy minutes, and when that happens, you know something was going wrong in this game. Speaking from experience of watching the Warriors play Monta Ellis 48 minutes a game, playing your starters for that long doesn't help anyone, especially when they're hemorrhaging points defensively.
In addition to the failure of the Thunder to meet nearly any of the above criteria, the Thunder failed in other areas as well:
Terrible transition offense. It's simple. Don't make bad passes! I'm tired of seeing the Thunder straight up give away a possession because they forgot a Grizzly was lurking right in front of one of their own players. Having to run the half-court offense isn't such a terrible thing. a bad shot going up is ten times better than no shot at all.
Second chance points. The prior phrase is a buzzword for basketball analysts everywhere, but here, it's the truth. Randolph and Gasol were getting offensive rebounds left and right not only because they're great rebounders, but also because the Grizzlies would always have a third man down in the post creating some extra space for Randolph and Gasol. It was sly, but it was worth it, because it led to easy buckets for the Grizzlies. The Thunder, on the other hand, don't have the same scoring ability from their own big men, so their offensive rebounds were not as successful.
When you get down to it, the loss tonight was not a lack of offense. Our offense wasn't perfect, but it was adequate. What really killed the Thunder was a lack of defense. To be fair, there are some plays that just can't be stopped, like Z-Bo's sweet, sweet jumpshots. But most of what happened is just textbook. Comeon, backdoor cuts? Letting the Grizzlies lure you into a dumb trap play? Watching Gasol shoot wide open jumpers from the top of the key? Heck, sometimes, I saw Thunder players simply give up or lose their man on defense. That's just a lack of effort.
I know I'm being really negative here, but the fact is the Thunder got beat down really hard. They fell behind once in the second, again in the third, and insurmountably in the fourth. It's like the Grizzlies were punching a doll that pops right back up after it falls over and over again.
But the Thunder can easily make adjustments and play a competitive game. The number one thing that needs to be exploited is the Grizzlies bench depth. Aside from Battier, their bench played terribly today, mainly serving as facades to distract the Thunder from the real talent on the floor. They shot only 6-17, and their offense was mainly used to make sure that players like Randolph and Gasol didn't get double-teamed. If the Thunder ignore the bench when they need to and focus on the important players, they can make bigger runs.
Additionally, they must keep the post players fresh. 30 minutes might be a little much on Perk, and Ibaka had an unusually high number of minutes at 37. I'm not saying that they can't handle the high number of minutes, but I am saying that if Mohammed and Collison are rotated in a bit more often, then perhaps the extra energy can keep either Randolph or Gasol in check.
Trapping has to stop. I have no qualms with a wing player doing down to the post to help guard Gasol or Randolph, but trying to steal the ball on the perimeter is not working, especially with Conley functioning as one of the best assist men in the game. Go man-to-man, and dare Conley to drive the lane. He's usually not a fantastic scorer, so it could work.
Before I conclude this recap, I must take a moment to remind us all of the greatness of Kevin Durant. Yes, we all already know how good he is, but I snub him a lot in my recaps and take time to talk about other things. It's not because he's not important, it's simply because he plays consistently, as solid as a rock. He had, far and away, the best and least flawed performance tonight. So big ups to you, KD. We wouldn't be here without you.
It's only an uphill battle from here. Things may look gloomy now, but an excellent game on Tuesday night could change attitudes completely. The Thunder just need to remember to make adjustments where needed and bring their A-Game. No pouting, no forgetting to play defense. Lastly, we as fans need to remember to stay classy. I'm not pointing fingers as anybody, but blaming a game like this on the refs is just low. The Thunder lost, plain and simple.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 33 Points, 11 Rebounds, 3 Assists, 1 Steal, 2 Blocks.
Thunder Down Under: Nick Collison and Thabo Sefolosha, for some gamey play offensively and defensively when the Thunder needed it.
Thunder Blunder: Russell Westbrook's 7 Turnovers.
Thunder Plunderer: Zach Randolph, 34 Points, 10 Rebounds, 2 Assists, 3 Steals.
Next Game: Game 2 Versus the Memphis Grizzlies, Tuesday, May 3rd, 8:30 PM Central Standard Time.