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Memphis Grizzlies vs Oklahoma City Thunder: 2011 NBA Semi-Finals, Game Two Preview; Rebound

Records: The Memphis Grizzlies (46-26) vs The Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27)

Series: Grizzlies lead 1-0

Time: 8:30 PM Central Daylight Time

Place: Oklahoma City Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

TV: Turner Network Television, Fox Sports Net Oklahoma HD, SportSouth Memphis

Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), Soul Classics 103.5 FM WRBO

Enemy Blog(s): Straight Outta Vancouver, 3 Shades of Blue

Previous Meeting(s): May 1

I confess, I have a bit of the nerves at the moment. Isn't that a good thing though? Is that not one of the very reasons why we follow sports, and the NBA playoffs in particular? Tonight we get a question answered. Tonight, the Thunder will answer the question for us as to whether they have the fortitude to stand and fight. You cannot win a championship, and you cannot even compete for a championship, if this question is not first answered in the affirmative.

How will OKC do it?

The Defense.

  • The defense, once a shameful thing in this season, morphed into a dominant presence as the season went on. However, In Game One it was exposed as having some weaknesses, and the Thunder need to patch over those holes. The biggest hole, as we looked at yesterday, is the Thunder's weakness in guarding big men on the perimeter. Unfortunately for the Thunder, bot Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol can shoot from the outside, so screen and rolls must be guarded carefully. However, the reality of the situation is this - the Thunder have to decide which way is better. Is it in giving the Memphis bigs 15-18 footers? Or is it in letting them crash to the rim, score in the paint, and draw fouls? I think that the answer here is obvious.
  • Likewise, OKC has to make the guards into shooters. Memphis likes to do one thing - score inside - and they dislike doing another - shoot from the outside. It stands to reason that the Thunder would be best served making them do the thing they least want to do. So when those high screens come, I think the Thunder have to go underneath them. They will yield the perimeter shot, but I think it is an option they have to explore at this point.
  • The Thunder gave up 114 points to a team that averaged less than 100 in the regular season. If OKC wants to have any shot at all in this series, they have to do whatever is necessary to alter the Memphis attack. OKC gave up 30 points in the 4th quarter, an easy indicator that their defense was not focused.

The Offense.

  • The biggest facet here is that the Thunder have to show better patience in their offense. While Russell Westbrook falls squarely in the sites of this argument, it goes for the rest of the players as well. The Thunder have better quickness, but one man driving on three is always a losing proposition. It is not merely how quick they are, but when they apply that quickness that matters.
  • Remember that the Grizzlies love to steal the ball. Zach Lowe at Sports Illustrated has written several timesabout Memphis' ability to create turnovers. The Thunder have to put themselves into better passing angles in order to prevent Memphis from setting up these stealing opportunities.
  • If and when the offense breaks down, OKC must remember that the free throw line is their friend. On top of that, Memphis is not a deep team.
  • Westbrook is going to come out with high energy. I do think that if that energy manifests on offense, he's going to feel more pain and frustration. I think it would behoove him best to rather transfer that energy into defense.
  • Mr. James Harden, it would be great to see you tonight. Those are 15-18 points in your pockets that the Grizzlies don't have an answer to. In Round One, that was the difference in Game Two. You're Big Game James. Let's see it.
This game is going to be difficult, but if the Thunder have learned anything this season, it is that they can compete with, and beat, anyone if they give their full attention to the task at hand. I know I will be this evening.

Prediction: Thunder 97, Grizzlies 94