That was a toughie. No way around it. In the NBA playoffs, every mistake is amplified. Possessions are more important, everything is under a microscope set to seek out the tiniest imperfections.
For the Memphis Grizzlies, several players may feel like they “should” have won game 1 in Oklahoma City on Sunday. But in the playoffs, there’s no room for should, only what you did and the Grizzlies did let an exceedingly winnable game 1 slip away.
So how can the Grizzlies win game 2? After all, most teams are happy with a split after the first two road games of a series, right? But at the rate folks have been jumping on the Grizzlies bandwagon this series, maybe simply winning the series isn’t enough.
That’s insane of course, but some people aren’t reasonable. They think that because the Thunder lost Russell Westbrook then the Thunder should put up little more fight than your average 16 seed during March Madness. People often forget that the Thunder are the defending Western Conference Champions and aren’t going to be so quick to relinquish their throne, with Westbrook or without him. So anyone expecting a quick series will probably be extremely disappointed.
But what can the Grizzlies do differently? It seemed like game 1 went the way Lionel Hollins would have wanted it to play out, right? Grizzlies lead for most of the game, they “held” Kevin Durant to 35 points and forced the Thunder to shoot a low percentage while keeping Oklahoma City from getting up and down for most of the game.
Yet, they still lost. Is that bad for Memphis or good? I say it’s good for the simple reason that the Thunder had a lot of things go right for them on Sunday and still had to hit a game-winner jumper to beat a Grizzlies team that eliminated the hated Clippers in six games on Friday night.
Further, the Thunder not only got an efficient scoring game from Durant, but also a huge lift from Kevin Martin as well. Martin is a proven scorer in this league, but he’s never been regarded as one of the best scorers in the league, if that makes sense. Entering the series, I had my questions about how Martin would respond to being a key player in a playoff series and with the exception of the clinching win against Houston and game 1 against Memphis, those have been somewhat confirmed.
I don’t think you can shut down a scorer like Martin, but making him into a volume shooter would be recommended. The Grizzlies can live with Durant posting 35 points and they would probably be fine if Martin gets to 20, but if Durant is making all of his teammates better then it will be tough to win any games, not just in Oklahoma City.
That brings us to the mystery of Tony Allen. Where was he during Oklahoma City’s game-deciding run? He was on the bench where he was for most of the second half. I don’t know if Hollins forgot about him or was mad at him, but that oversight probably cost the Grizzlies game 1. You can’t let it cost your team game 2.
Allen is on this team to take away great offensive players. There’s no stopping Durant because he’s probably the best offensive player in the league so you can’t do much, regardless of who’s guarding him. However, Martin is a guy that struggles to get his own shot and Tony Allen loves to make life tough for offensive players, especially ones that are slightly limited.
A lot of people don’t understand the thought process behind letting Durant get his, so allow me to explain my side of it: Kevin Durant can get 30 on any given night. On a night in which he’s really hot, he can do 42-45 points. On nights that he’s ice cold, he still gets to 25 between hitting shots at the rim and shooting free throws. It’s just something that you have to make peace with. Tony Allen would make Durant’s 30 points tougher to come by, but Durant is getting 30 regardless.
Martin isn’t even remotely the same type of scorer. Tony Allen can bother him into taking tough shots and he’s not nearly the offensive savant that Durant is. You can take Martin out of a playoff series, but you can’t do anything with Durant.
Besides Martin and Allen, the two other things to look for in game 2 and the rest of the series is if the Grizzlies can ever figure out this free throw bugaboo that’s plagued them for weeks now. 14-24 from the free-throw line will get you beat in February against the Bobcats, let alone in the playoffs against Oklahoma City. I’d say that the free throws will start to fall, but there’s no telling. The Grizzlies have to stop leaving those points on the line.
The other guy is Serge Ibaka. Ibaka had an awful shooting day on Sunday with a 1-10 mark, but made up for it with some good defense on Zach Randolph. Randolph still hit some shots, but they were tough and far from high-percentage looks.
The problem is that the Thunder will need something from him on offense with Westbrook out. I don’t blame him for taking 10 shots because they were all shots that he’s hit this year, they just weren’t falling. The Thunder need them to fall in addition to his usual solid defensive play. If they don’t get that, then it will be tough to beat a battle tested, slightly more talented Grizzlies squad.
The Grizzlies get back, but still find a way to make it interesting. Durant scores 43 points on 25 shots, but Kevin Martin posts only 9. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol both post 20+ points and 10+ rebounds as the Grizzlies have a little more success establishing the post in game 2. The Grizzlies come home to Memphis with a ton of momentum and a 1-1 series.