The Oklahoma City Thunder are quite clearly part of the new guard in the NBA. Not only are they in a town not necessarily historically known as a basketball city, but they are also a team predicated on sort of the new-wave of NBA talent. There haven’t been many, if any, players like Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook are the new breed of talent at their respective positions.
In stark contrast to the Thunder, though, is their opponent in the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs, the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies get by in the traditional ways of the pro-game, feeding the post on offense, with immense toughness, and with one of the best defenses in the league.
In game one of their series on Saturday night, the Grizzlies fell down quick to the Thunder’s “new age” approach, but fought back valiantly in the third quarter by dominating in the post. In the third quarter alone, Memphis outscored OKC 22-2 in the paint. For the game, Memphis held a 50-34 advantage in that department. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story nor does it tell how the Thunder ended up with 100-86 win and 1-0 lead in the series.
While Kevin Durant coming up big once again down the stretch was a big factor, arguably the biggest thing working in Oklahoma City’s favor on Saturday night was how they were able to render Memphis’ big men inefficient in their production in the post.
On the evening, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph combined for an impressive 37 points. However, they reached that mark while shooting only 14-40 from the field combined. Serge Ibaka and the Thunder frontcourt were able to take control of the post and limit the good looks that the Grizzlies’ big men were getting on the interior.
While it’s certainly a tall order for the Thunder against one of the frontcourt duos in the NBA right now, using their athleticism and length in their own frontcourt to make Memphis shoot inefficiently on the interior is the biggest key to their success in this series.
Obviously having Durant and one of the most explosive offensive attacks works in the Thunder’s favor, but they can’t rely on that alone. One of the things that has made this Oklahoma City team so dangerous is their ability to turn the dial to 11 defensively and have their way on that end of the floor. They have the talent throughout their roster to do so against a multitude of different attacks, including limiting success in the post. If they are able to continue that, the Thunder should be able to roll on to the second round with the Grizzlies barely being heard from at all.