The Memphis Grizzlies secured a match-up with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the 2014 NBA playoffs, but now the team will have to prepare for one of their biggest threats to making a surprise run at an NBA championship.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are two of the best players in the game, plain and simple. There is no getting around the fact that it will be hard to contain these two players no matter who you throw at them. Durant is a long athlete with unlimited range and great explosiveness to get to the rim, and Westbrook is a match-up nightmare with his quickness and ball handling ability. Westbrook can get to the basket anytime he wants or pull up for a jump shot, which makes him virtually unguardable one-on-one. Together, these two have averaged 53.8 points per game during the regular season, making them one of the most potent offensive duos in the league.
The Grizzlies have their work cut out for them on the perimeter, but they have a chance to take control of other areas on the court, especially early on in the first game.
Memphis is a team that is based on a half court low post game. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol provide the muscle in the starting lineup, while Kosta Koufos and Ed Davis come off the bench to bolster the front line of the second unit. The Thunder have Serge Ibaka down low, but he has become more of a stretch forward, utilizing his shot that has extended out to three-point range to spread the floor and provide more space for Durant and Westbrook to find driving lanes to the hoop. If the Grizzlies can take advantage of Ibaka on the perimeter and box out well, they can take away the Thunder’s chances of getting offensive rebounds for easy points.
Basically, the Grizzlies need to limit the amount of easy baskets the Thunder will be able to get due to Durant and Westbrook’s ability to carry a team by themselves. Outside of Ibaka, the Thunder have Kendrick Perkins and Steven Adams. Perkins has not been the most productive center during the regular season, showing signs of dropping off as a productive post player with averages of only 3.4 points and 4.9 rebounds per game for the season. Adams has shown signs of being a potential impact player down the road, but he is still a very young player. The Grizzlies’ veterans in the post should be able to take advantage of this in the playoffs and win the battle on the low block.
With all of this in mind, it is clear that the battle in the post in this first game is the most important thing that can overwhelmingly swing the series towards a Thunder win or can give the Grizzlies the potential to upset if they can get the edge. The Grizzlies will win this battle in the post early on, but the perimeter play of Durant and Westbrook at home should be able to carry the Thunder enough to a first game win. It will not be easy, as Mike Conley and Tony Allen are more than capable of disrupting the flow of offense for the Thunder out on the wing, but star power is what really wins in the playoffs. Unless Randolph and Gasol can have big enough games to offset the major scoring advantage of the Thunder, then this game will be a strong first win for Oklahoma City on their home turf.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder win Game 1