MEMPHIS – The Memphis Grizzlies were the bullies in Game 1.
The Oklahoma City Thunder stood up to the bullies in Game 2.
It remains to be seen which team becomes the bully from this point forward in the Western Conference semifinal between Memphis and OKC.
With a flooding Mississippi River nearing an all-time record crest just blocks away from FedExForum, the Thunder faces the Beale Street Bullies inside their home gym for Game 3 at 4 p.m. Saturday.
A few hours later, Manny Pacquiao and Shane Mosley will meet for the welterweight championship in Las Vegas, but could this NBA playoff game be booked as the undercard?
The Thunder is the No. 4 seed and Memphis is the No. 8, but the Grizzlies own home-court advantage thanks to their impressive opening win at Oklahoma City Arena on Sunday night.
Fresh off winning a knock-down, drag-out series against top-seeded San Antonio in the opening round, Memphis controlled Game 1 from the outset, taking the lead for good after just 90 seconds and posting a convincing 114-101 victory.
"When you're in a physical dogfight, it's easier to go into whatever style is out there coming at you right off the bat," Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said after Game 1. "We had the advantage of playing against a more physical Spurs team who, quite frankly, were just beating us up. We were banging and fighting, and it was a tough series.
"Then we come into this series and OKC had been playing against Denver – who is not quite as physical as San Antonio – so Oak City might not have been prepared for the physicality, but I'm sure that as the series wears on, they will be."
Hollins was right. OKC shoved back in Game 2 for an equally convincing 111-102 victory on Tuesday night.
"They play tough," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of the Grizzlies. "They bring it every night, so we have to definitely match that. I don't know if it's being a bully, it's just how we have to play. We have to think defense. We have enough scoring. We have to have a defensive mindset, a defensive mentality every possession, make it tough on their players to score. If that's being a bully or of that's just being tough, NBA players win games by toughness."
OKC reserve forward Nick Collison won Tuesday's unofficial tough man contest, keeping Zach Randolph out of sorts, which resulted in 2-for-13 shooting from the field after a 34-point, 10-rebound performance in the opener.
Collison wasn't alone in his physical play. OKC was noticeably more aggressive across the board defensively.
"We don't really look at it as being a bully," Collison said. "With us, it's more about the mindset of every time you're out there you have to be engaged and locked in, and that allows you to not get bullied. You have to be able to be in a stance the whole time you're out there. When you relax is when you get knocked off spots, like in Game 1.
"We're not going in there with the mindset of trying to fight or be bullies or anything like that. We just know we have to be extremely engaged and play with a toughness, and toughness in basketball is being able to focus and to it the whole game."
John Rohde: 475-3099. John Rohde can be heard Monday-Friday from 6-7 p.m. on The Sports Animal Network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.