The Oklahoma City Thunder received a bit of bad news around Christmas when it was announced that point guard Russell Westbrook would have to undergo a second knee surgery and miss a substantial amount of time. However, OKC weathered those tough times and now it seems like the basketball gods have finally given them an long overdue gift.
As they enter game seven of their series with the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs, the Thunder found out that Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph has been suspended by the league. There has been a lot of debate about whether or not the suspension was warranted, but it’s happening and that’s just how things are playing out.
Obviously the Thunder will have a distinct advantage without Randolph on the floor, him being one of the Grizzlies’ best offensive options. However, what’s even more important for the Thunder in this decisive game is that Serge Ibaka takes advantage of not having Randolph in the lineup.
Ibaka hasn’t been disgraceful or anything in the postseason, but he also hasn’t had that great of an impact in the series. Through six games, the forward has averaged just 13.2 points, 9.7 rebounds and three blocks per game on 57.9 percent shooting. While his defense and rebounding are good, OKC will need him to rise up on the offensive end.
Throughout the regular season, Ibaka showed his evolution as an offensive player. While Randolph isn’t a great defender, especially against superb athletes like Ibaka, the physicality of him and Gasol has had a tiring effect on guys like Ibaka in this series which has limited their production. Subsequently, that should open up Ibaka to more success in game seven.
The Thunder can certainly win on Saturday night without a big game from Ibaka. After all, Westbrook and Kevin Durant are still capable of monster performances. However, things will go a lot smoother on their way to the second round if Ibaka can take advantage of what is now a matchup that works heavily in their favor in this decisive game seven versus the Grizzlies.