|2014 NBA Playoffs, Round 1|
|May 3rd, 2014|
|Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma|
|7:00 PM Central Daylight Time|
|TV: Turner Network Television, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, SportSouth|
|Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM/640 AM), 92.5 FM ESPN|
|Injury Report: Zach Randolph (Suspended), Nick Calathes (Suspended)|
|Previous Matchups: Game 1 (W, 100-86), Game 2 (L, 105-111), Game 3 (L, 95-98), Game 4 (W, 92-89), Game 5 (L, 99-100), Game 6 (104-84)|
|Mike Conley, Jr.||PG||Russell Westbrook|
|Tony Allen||SG||Caron Butler|
|Tayshaun Prince||SF||Kevin Durant|
|Ed Davis||PF||Serge Ibaka|
|Kosta Koufos||C||Kendrick Perkins|
So, here's the lowdown on Game 7.
Zach Randolph has been suspended, and will not play. He's had some trouble running the ship for the Grizzlies offensively, unable to clear out space against bigger defenders like Perkins and Adams. But the loss of his presence on the boards and defensively will definitely hurt the Grizz, as well as the minutes that he takes up on the depth chart.
With his absence, it's anticipated that James Johnson, Ed Davis, and Kosta Koufos will see an increase in minutes. I'm not really sure why Johnson hasn't played more in this series. He's had a couple of top-tier games against Oklahoma City this season, and had played really well going into the playoffs. Johnson isn't as effective of a defender as Tony Allen is (for whatever reason). He is a bombastic and athletic scorer though, and I could catching Butler off-guard on the perimeter and taking it strong to the rim for a few points.
Johnson's increased minutes will no doubt change the dynamic of the team. Without ZBo there, it becomes harder to operate your offensive system from the inside out. Ed Davis isn't nearly as reliable or post-oriented, and Koufos usually plays opposite Gasol. So unless they feel like dusting off the young and athletic Jon Leuer, the Grizz will most likely give the rest of their minutes to their abundance of wings and try to space the floor a bit more.
Unfortunately, there's another problem with that. Mike Conley has a tight hamstring. According to the story on ESPN, he first aggravated it in a late season game against Phoenix, and re-injured it mate in Game 6. He is currently undergoing treatment and plans to play, but nobody's betting on his effectiveness. He was missing open shots in games four and six, and has taken a dip in assist numbers over the past couple of games. I don't think he'll necessarily hurt the Grizzlies, but it's just hard to see him having an A+ game under those circumstances.
Thus, it's going to be down to Marc Gasol to lead the charge. He'll need to establish his game down low early, using his array of post moves to score and distribute. Defensively, Marc Gasol will continue to be key in playing help defense and stopping Thunder drives. On the boards, Gasol usually struggles, but his performances in Games 4 and 5 really helped pull the Grizzlies out of some bad holes. Randolph's absence will put more responsibility on his shoulders though. Tony Allen will be helpful in that department too, simply because he's so good at jumping into the lane at exactly the right time.
Will the Grizzlies change their philosophy entirely with the loss of ZBo? Probably not. When Randolph was absent during the regular season (for a whopping 3 games), the Grizzlies always chose to use a combination of Kosta Koufos, Ed Davis, and Jon Leuer on the inside. However, due to the nature of the Thunder's defense, it's hard to see Mike Joerger automatically handing the keys to his offense to guys who have barely seen the floor over the last three games. More realistically, I see Gasol and Conley getting overused and doing their best to get looks for Miller, Lee, Udrih, and Johnson.
In the end, I think the Thunder are going to be able to wrap this series up at home. Winning twice at the Grindhouse was huge, losing ZBo was huger, and KD's ferocious comeback in Game 6 was hugest (in my opinion). All of the momentum is in the Thunder's direction, and for all intents and purposes, the Grizzlies have lost half of their star power. I do concede that it's entirely possible that the Grizzlies commence a defensive shutdown of the Thunder and just turn it into a game of guts, and I also concede that it's possible the Grizz beat them on the open floor. But I don't think that either of those things are likely, nor do I believe in Gasol and Conley combining for more than 50.
But really, I'm talking outta you know where. No one knows how this series is going to end. When it gets to Game 7, anything's possible.
ALSO, REMEMBER TO GET HYPE!!!!
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 109, Memphis Grizzlies 99.
What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!