The fifth game of a series in the NBA postseason usually has a great effect on the outcome of who wins and who loses.
In the case of the Memphis Grizzlies and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2014 playoffs, this is the case. The series is tied at two games apiece, and with the Thunder having home-court advantage throughout the rest of their time against Memphis, there is a sense of urgency on the part of the Grizzlies.
If the Grizzlies can win in Game 5, then they will be in good position to win the series as the Thunder have struggled against Memphis on the road in the playoffs, only having won two out of seven games in their postseason meetings. However, if Oklahoma City can pull out a win, then they will have control in the series. Game 7 is on their home court, so they would have a huge advantage in terms of pressure in a Game 6 situation. The Grizzlies, on the other hand, would be forced to win the sixth game on their own turf or go home and watch the playoffs from their own couches.
The Thunder and Grizzlies have different styles of play, and both have won out at different points in the series. The Thunder were able to win Game 1 and Game 4 with a more up-tempo approach on offense. Their defense on the Grizzlies allowed them to force turnovers and get out in transition to take advantage of their athleticism on the wing. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are dynamic scorers who excel at running the floor and either finishing at the rim or pulling up on the perimeter. Oklahoma City has struggled to put together consistent half court offense throughout the series. The Grizzlies have been able to play pressure defense and force multiple bodies on the Thunder shooters due to great defensive recognition and rotation. If the Thunder cannot get out and run where they have space on the floor to move, the Grizzlies will take control of this game because this series has been all about tempo.
When the Grizzlies have been able to slow things down and really focus, they have been the ones to win and close out games. A slower pace favors the Grizzlies because of their big men down low in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Both have been able to impose their will on the Thunder in terms of overall post play, especially Gasol who exploded for 23 points and 11 rebounds in Game 4. However, Randolph will need to step up his efficiency in the post, as he is only shooting 36.0 percent in the postseason. If the Grizzlies are going to take control and win Game 5, they must slow the game down and limit the number of opportunities the Thunder have to get out in transition. The Grizzlies must control the boards and limit turnovers to make that happen, and more importantly they need to put points on the board in an efficient manner through their two post scorers to put pressure on the Thunder to execute in the half court. If the Grizzlies can keep scoring, then the Thunder do not have those transition opportunities.
With all of that being said, the Thunder showed last game that their stars can have poor games but someone has the potential to step up. In Game 4 it was Reggie Jackson, and in Game 5 it could be Serge Ibaka or Caron Butler. The Thunder have a deeper roster of scorers compared to the Grizzlies, and in the playoffs, perimeter scoring matters. Memphis does not have the perimeter scoring on the road to compete with Oklahoma City. The Grizzlies have played an excellent series thus far, but this may be where the team is finally put to rest by the more superior offensive threat.
If the Grizzlies can win this game, then they would make themselves the favorite to win with two games left to close it out. The Thunder are the more likely team to win due to their multiple potent offensive weapons, and Durant and Westbrook would make sure to close out the series if they had two games to do so.
Defense wins championships but scoring has to come into play as well, and the Grizzlies simply do not have enough of it to overcome the Thunder.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Wins Game 5