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New faces emerge in Thunder vs. Grizzlies matchup

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Jeff Green and Mitch McGary add new intrigue to an age-old rivalry.

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Anyone objecting the name change of Oklahoma to BROklahoma can go move to BROKElahoma.
Anyone objecting the name change of Oklahoma to BROklahoma can go move to BROKElahoma.
William Bennett Berry

The Jeff Green Effect

The Thunder are 0-2 against the Memphis Grizzlies this season, and the addition of Jeff Green to the Grizzly roster has made the team nearly unstoppable. Memphis is 13-2 since acquiring Green, and managed to defensively dominate the Thunder just 11 days ago. OKC scored just 74 points in that game against Memphis, good for the Thunder's second lowest total this season. When you consider that nine of the Thunder's eleven sub-90 point games this season have come without Durant and Westbrook, you begin to understand how thorough the Grizz domination was.

I'd also like to note that Jeff Green was absolutely key in the encounter. On defense, Green limited Kevin Durant to five of 16 shooting, along with only 6 free throws. There are few that match KD so closely in terms of size and mobility, so it's easy to see why Green would be a defensive problem for KD. Green also managed to limit KD to zero shot attempts at the rim, which is remarkable in itself. The lack of Durant's presence at the rim certainly had to make life easier for Gasol, Randolph, and Koufos, all of whom could concentrate more on other duties.

Furthermore, the presence of Jeff Green freed up Tony Allen. Allen has been famous for shutting down Durant in the past, and is known for a very physical brand of defense. Dion Waiters, Allen's defacto target, really didn't know what hit him. Waiters finished the night shooting 3 of 14, and it was largely due to Allen keeping him away from the rim. Meanwhile, Green's ripple effect was felt further out still, as Courtney Lee and Tony Allen were able to spend time on Russell Westbrook. Unsurprisingly, Westbrook shot 5 of 16.

Jeff Green was helpful on offense as well. His overall percentages aren't anything to brag about, but Green's ability to get to the rim was absolutely essential in triggering a couple of second and third quarter runs. That's the type of offense Memphis simply didn't have during those points of the game in the past, and it really helped Memphis maintain a lead throughout the game.

Looking back to November

Still, you've got to take a step back and remember that these same Memphis Grizzlies (minus Green plus Carter and Pondexter) only managed to beat the Durant and Westbrook-less Thunder by two points back in November. In that game, the shooting of Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson, and Sebastian Telfair was able to open up things for OKC at the rim. Thinking about today's game, it might help to try to establish Ibaka again. That would hopefully get one of Memphis' bigs away from the rim, and make it a bit easier for KD to score.

Could Mitch McGary be a factor?

Another big stat from the November OKC/M-Town game was a 6 of 9 night from Steven Adams, all at the rim. Adams used his speed to get around Gasol for a variety of hooks and tip ins, including a rather impressive drive from the right wing. Obviously, Perk could never hope to provide a 6 of 9 night unless he had a serious offensive advantage. But there is some hope on OKC's end. Mitch McGary will likely get a lot of minutes at center tonight, and will match up with Gasol at times. McGary has gotten serious minutes in two games thus far this season, but both of those stints have been breakout performances.

McGary's first break out performance came against the Clippers on Sunday. There, McGary used his speed to run the length of the floor against Big Baby Davis, and was a serious factor on the boards. Mitch would finish with 19 points and 10 boards on 8 of 9 shooting. McGary's next big performance came on Monday, where he shot 6 of 12 against a malaised Denver front line. The performance was another double double, as McGary finished with 17 points and 10 boards. McGary hasn't had to face anyone with the defensive IQ of Gasol before, but it's obvious that he's going to have a physical advantage against Memphis' front line.

Still, it's a lot to expect a big performance out of a rookie in his third game. There's no past data to prove me wrong though, so I really can't say much. I will say that McGary has a long way to go to prove himself on the defensive end. As noted by Jeff Van Gundy on Sunday's telecast, McGary has yet to show that he can rotate and protect the rim effectively. McGary tends to stay home on his man, much as Perk does. With Perk's lack of athleticism, it's more okay for him to do. But ideally, you'd like to see McGary play more of an Ibaka-type role on D. For tonight's game, though, I wouldn't mind seeing him simply focus on containing Gasol and Koufos. The Grizzlies are a unique case, as always.

A Good Run for Durant and Westbrook

KD and Russ are the heart of this team, and it's good to finally see them both putting in good performances. KD was sidelined with a sprained right tow for four games, and struggled to fully establish himself against the Pelicans last Friday. But KD has turned in two classic performances since. KD's game against the Clippers was almost offensively flawless, as Matt Barnes frequently got lost following Durant off the ball. And KD's game against the Nuggets was simply sublime, as Durant hit three after three right in Wilson Chandler's grill. KD would finish with 7 threes in Denver, a career high.

But as good as KD has been, Westbrook has been better. Over the past five games, Russ has averaged 32.6 points on 51% from the floor and 40% from three. That goes with 8.4 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 2.0 steals, and only 3.4 turnovers. That's just unreal, and is a huge reason why the Thunder are 4-1 over that stretch. I will add the caveat that the four teams Russ faced don't exactly excel at perimeter defense. But still, Russ did have to deal with a variety of bigger defenders throughout, and no one really phased him. Here's hoping that the positive vibes from OKC's two stars can help them against a Memphis team that has effectively shut down both players in the past.

Final Thoughts

Trying to predict the way of Thunder-Grizzlies is like trying to predict which way the wind will blow. Still, you have to feel good about OKC's chances tonight. The Thunder have lost Adams, but McGary figures to fill an offensive need. Also, Perk and Collison are still there to shut down the Grizzly bigs. Green adds a new dimension to Memphis and makes them even more defensively fearsome, but the Thunder's bench has gotten more and more promising over the past week. If Waiters and Jackson could run a bit of motion and get some favorable matchups, I'm sure they could get a few key scores when it matters. And even though KD and Westbrook don't figure to have perfect nights, you've got to think that they'll be in playoff mode with a week's rest ahead of them. So I'm predicting a last second OKC victory, though anything goes against the Grizzlies.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 94, Memphis Grizzlies 91.

What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!

2014-15 NBA Season Game 53
(Won 2)

(Won 2)
February 11th, 2015
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
7:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Fox Sports Network South
Injury Report: Steven Adams, Vince Carter (Out)
This Season's Matchups: Nov 7 (L 91-89), Jan 31 (L 74-85)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Mike Conley
Andre Roberson SG Courtney Lee
Kevin Durant SF Jeff Green
Serge Ibaka PF Zach Randolph
Kendrick Perkins C Marc Gasol

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