At 9:30 PM ET tonight on ESPN, Game 4 between the Grizzlies and Thunder will tip-off. With a 2-1 series lead, the Grizzlies will look to once again win at home and give themselves a commanding 3-1 series lead. Beating the Thunder for a third consecutive time won’t be an easy task at all for the Grizzlies, especially since tonight is clearly a must win game for the Thunder. The thing to look for tonight is whether or not the Thunder can win with their backs against the wall. I expect to find that out within the first 6 minutes of this game. If the Thunder are leading at the end of six minutes, then we will be in for a dog fight all night. If the Grizzlies are leading at the end of six minutes by more than 5 points, then I think we’ll be in for a Grizzlies blowout. The first six minutes of this game will be incredibly crucial because it will give us a window into the souls of the Thunder. If they still believe in themselves at all, they’ll be up early in this game. If they’ve lost all faith, then they’ll be down early and they won’t come back.
As for what the Grizzlies need to do to win tonight’s game, they need to continue to do what they’ve been doing. That is, they need to continue to bother Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and make the rest of the Thunder beat them. In a series in which a team wins two straight games, the team that has lost two straight games is the team that needs to make the adjustments. As far as the Grizzlies are concerned, if they continue to play stingy defense, move the ball around, rebound, and hit an occasional three, they’ll be fine. The Thunder need to figure out a way to combat that and frustrate the Grizzlies.
How can the Thunder do that exactly? Well, it won’t be an easy task, but I think it starts with their role players playing much better. They need guys like Thabo Sefolosha, Derek Fisher, Jeremy Lamb, and Caron Butler to start giving Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook some help. They are the only two guys on the Thunder who can score at all, and if that trend continues tonight the Thunder will lose. In addition, the Thunder need to make sure that the Grizzlies’ role players like Mike Miller, Courtney Lee, and Beno Udrih don’t get going. If the Thunder’s role players play well and the Grizzlies’ role players struggle, then the Thunder will win this game. If not, then the Thunder are going to have a hard time coming out with a win tonight.
In essence, I’m saying this game is coming down to the role players on both teams and the early tempo of this game. If the Thunder come out strong and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook get support, the Thunder will win. If the Grizzlies get out in front early and their role players perform well while the Thunder’s role players are quiet, then the Grizzlies will win. It’s really that simple.
—Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord