The biggest issue for the Grizzlies was free throw shooting. As a team, the Grizzlies shot 13-of-23 from the line, which is pathetic for a playoff performance. In a postseason game, the opportunities to score points become limited. The game slows down and the shot lock runs out, so the number of good looks from the field decreases for anyone. When a player can get to the free throw line to put easy points on the board, they have to take advantage of it, especially in a high pressure situation. For a team that does not shoot the ball exceptionally well such as the Grizzlies, free throws need to be a crucial part of the offensive game plan, and the Grizzlies simply could not execute in that part of the game.
Speaking of shooting, the Grizzlies’ shooting numbers from the field were not so hot either.
The Grizzlies shot 37.2 percent from the floor overall, including 30 percent from three. The Grizzlies are not a proficient team shooting from deep, but a team cannot shoot that poorly from the field and expect to win many playoff games. The Grizzlies have a great inside presence in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Gasol did his part showing up, scoring 23 points on 10-of-21 shooting, but Randolph did not shoot the ball well at all.
Randolph had 11 points on just 5-of-14 shooting. He is considered by many to be the Grizzlies’ first option on offense because he has the size and touch around the rim to finish easy looks inside. Randolph also shoots over 70 percent from the free throw line, so he can draw contact and not be a liability from the charity stripe. He needs to be an effective scorer for the Grizzlies to win some tough games; he provides a source of offense that the team relies on due to having very few perimeter scorers that can consistently get a look from outside. If Randolph can finish more shots inside and be effective, the Grizzlies have that much more of a chance to bounce back in the series.
Another player who must show more signs of life is Mike Conley.
Conley has done a great job against Oklahoma City in terms of being a facilitator and controlling the ball. Against the Thunder, in their fourth matchup, Conley had 10 assists to just one turnover. These are numbers that usually prove efficient in terms of running the offense, but for one as anemic in terms of scoring points as the Grizzlies, Conley needs to balance his distribution with his need for creating good looks for himself. Conley only shot 5-of-16 from the field and 0-of-6 from three. He needs to spread the floor for the big men to be able to work in the post, but more importantly, needs to be able to consistently penetrate in the lane and cause the defense to double team him in the paint. Conley was locked out of the paint for a lot of the game in the latest contest in the series, and that speaks to the Thunder having a defensive game plan against him. If Conley is stuck solely on the perimeter, he will not be an efficient scorer due to the lack of a great jump shot. He has the ability to shoot the ball, but he is at his best getting into the lane and either finishing at the rim or creating for others.
The Grizzlies are in a deep hole for the rest of the series. Two of the remaining three games are now in Oklahoma City, and it is not easy for any team to have on the road in the playoffs, even if it may be just one game. The next game will be difficult for the Grizzlies, as the momentum has shifted in favor of the Thunder.
The Grizzlies have a chance to win the series, but if they cannot make free throws, take good shots, and utilize guard play in the paint, then their chances are grim. Going up against two superstar players such as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook means that few mistakes can be made, and the Grizzlies are a veteran team capable of limiting mistakes.
Now, they just need to follow the game plan.