The 2014 NBA playoffs have been a roller coaster ride, with multiple teams having up and down swings throughout the first round. The Thunder and the Grizzlies have experienced that turbulence, but the series may come to an end in Game 6.
The Grizzlies have played tremendously well against the Thunder so far. Many people had the Thunder pegged as the favorite in the West due to the star power that the team possesses in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, as well as the fact that the entire team is deep and more athletic than most other teams in the West. The Thunder are a team that can score due to their multiple offensive weapons and can simply outrun almost any team in the entire league. Their ability to play fast and play at a pace that few teams can keep up with is one thing that has separated them from the pack during the regular season and in the postseason.
Unfortunately for the Thunder, the team may have met its match in the Grizzlies.
Memphis has played a contrasting style to what the Thunder like to run. The Grizzlies have slowed the game down to the point that it has become a half court defensive oriented struggle. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have been the go-to offensive players for the Grizzlies, as their size and skill have been imposed on the Thunder to a level that Oklahoma City cannot match on a consistent basis. The Grizzlies have also been able to hit shots when they have had to from the perimeter in the form of Mike Conley, Mike Miller and Courtney Lee. These guards have been able to stretch the floor at times throughout the series and hit big shots when Randolph and Gasol could not be relied upon to swing momentum back in a few games. Offensively, the Grizzlies have exceeded expectations, as they are usually not the most potent offensive team (27th in the league in points scored per game as a team during the regular season).
The Grizzlies’ defense is what has been their calling card against the Thunder.
The Grizzlies have held Durant and Westbrook to a combined 37.2 percent shooting from the field. Westbrook has missed 11 consecutive field goals in overtime. Durant has struggled to be a consistent scorer late in games. These two players are stars of the highest order, and have not simply been struggling because of themselves. Conley and Tony Allen of the Grizzlies have played defense of the highest quality against the Thunder’s two stars. Conley and Allen have been able to keep Durant and Westbrook from creating enough space to get off a clean shot. As a team overall, the Grizzlies have done a great job in terms of making sure that Thunder players get few looks without at least two defenders attempting to contest the shot. The Memphis players have excelled in rotating on defense and communicating as a defensive unit in order to get to the spots on the floor where they need to be in order to play the most effective defense.
This defensive effort on the part of the Grizzlies is no fluke either. There is no reason to believe Memphis cannot keep this up for another game against Oklahoma City.
During the regular season, the Grizzlies were the seventh best team in terms of defensive efficiency with a rating of 102.1. This team has the big men to man the paint and the guards with great awareness and lateral quickness to be able to take care of things on the perimeter.
The Grizzlies have thrown the Thunder off their usual game so far, and there should be no reason to expect different come Game 6. The Grizzlies will close out the series tonight at home with their suffocating defense and ability to make shots at the right times.
Prediction: Memphis wins Game 6.