Well, so much for that strained hamstring being what would cost the Memphis Grizzlies a shot at the second round of the playoffs.
Mike Conley, despite some idiot sports writer’s notion that he was going to be wildly ineffective, shook off his injury to turn in a quality performance in Game 7’s 120-109 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. He finished with 20 points, 9 assists, and 4 steals, while keeping the Grizzlies within striking distance of Kevin Durant and Co. in the first half. Conley, with help from Marc Gasol, attempted to help ease the pain of Zach Randolph’s suspension by the league.
Without Randolph, Gasol was much more aggressive, as he attempted 20 shots and finished with 24 points. Hardly an efficient effort, but Gasol being assertive in his offensive approach definitely was needed in Randolph’s absence.
Still, the burly power forward’s presence was missed dearly in the showdown with the Thunder, and it showed, but not in the way you may think.
With Conley and Gasol combining for 44 points, in addition to Courtney Lee and Tony Allen contributing 16 and 15 points respectively, the Grizzlies scored their second highest point total in the series — and still lost by 11. The reason lies in the very adjustments that coach Dave Joerger made to keep Memphis competitive in this game.
By starting Mike Miller in Randolph’s place and going small, Joerger got a jump on the Thunder in the strategy department (cue the Scott Brooks jokes). The Grizz took an unexpected 36-27 lead after the first quarter, and scored their highest total in a quarter this season. That success proved to be short-lived.
Oklahoma City stormed back in the second quarter as it became increasingly obvious the plan of attack had run its course. Yet, Memphis continued to try to beat the Thunder at their own game, and found themselves in a battle they could not win. Miller finished with 3 points in 29 minutes, and Joerger chose to primarily go with Jon Leuer and Tayshaun Prince off the bench over Ed Davis, Kosta Koufos, or James Johnson (who continued to rot on the pine).
It is easy to second guess Joerger, and in this case his decision was better than many alternatives, but it’s hard not to wonder how the game would have turned out had he decided to come out small, and counter with going big after the initial adjustment was made by the Thunder. After having a piece like Randolph ripped from you, it feels like the only choice is to play extreme chess, and the lingering sensation was that he was playing extreme checkers.
In the end Memphis challenged the Thunder at what they do best, and Oklahoma City made them pay.