The Thunder was able to survive street ball against Houston, but can it survive a street brawl against Memphis?
OKC outlasted the youthful exuberance of the upstart Houston Rockets in the opening round, clinching the NBA playoff series 4-2 with a 103-94 victory at Toyota Center on Friday night.
Roughly 36 hours later, the defending Western Conference champion Thunder now must step into the ring against the Memphis Grizzlies for Round 2.
Tipoff for Game 1 is noon at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“Their styles of play couldn't be more different,” veteran OKC reserve power forward Nick Collison surmised of Houston and Memphis,
Collison very well could be the Thunder's most important defender against the Grizzlies, because roaming the paint is 6-foot-9, 260-pound(ish) Memphis power forward Zach Randolph, who has averaged a double-double in scoring and rebounding six of the last eight seasons.
Randolph is a load who comes fully equipped with rebounding radar. The 13th-year player out of Michigan State seems to get his mitts on every missed shot at both ends of the floor. If he doesn't grab the board, he incessantly keeps the ball alive by tipping it.
Randolph is a player who is best defended by making your presence felt. Collison makes constant contact with the two-time All-Star, so he knows exactly where Collison is … and vice versa.
According to NBA.com/stats, Randolph shot 37.3 percent from the field in three games against the Thunder this season and had a plus/minus of plus-23 (points) when Collison was on the bench.
When Collison was on the court, however, Randolph shot just 27.3 percent from the floor and had a minus-32 in the 44 minutes he and Collison shared playing time.
On March 20 in Memphis, Randolph shot just 6 for 23 from the field, committed seven turnovers and had 15 points in 42-plus minutes of play. Collison saw extended minutes, playing nearly 27½ minutes when he normally averaged 19.5.
Though Collison held his own in the battle, he lost the war as Memphis won 90-89 in overtime. That same night, Randolph collected 18 rebounds. Even when you think you've contained Randolph, you haven't.
“He's always going to be a tough matchup,” Collison said. “They're going to go to him. He's going to get points. He's going to get rebounds.”
The beginning of this second-round series rekindles memories of the 2011 second-round series between the Thunder and Grizzlies that OKC wound up winning 4-3.
In Memphis' convincing victory in Game 1 at The Peake, Randolph single-handedly mauled OKC with 34 points, 10 rebounds (six offensive), three steals and two assists. The Thunder was down 1-0 in the series and appeared to have no answer.
After playing just 15 minutes in Game 1, Collison played 25 minutes in Game 2 while pestering, prodding and positioning himself against Randolph the whole time. Randolph shot 2 for 13 that night, finishing with 15 points and nine rebounds.
Arguably the most physical team in the league, the no-nonsense Grizzlies led the NBA in scoring defense (89.3) and opponent rebounds (39.1) and finished third in opponent field-goal percentage (.435) and offensive rebounds (12.9) this season.
“We've had a lot of difficult games with them,” Collison said. “I think both teams understand what the other one's going to do. There's not a lot of tricks.
“They have physical guys. They try to get the ball inside. They're one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league. They have guys who are cutters, they're always trying to get layups at the rim and defensively they always cause a lot of turnovers. They defend physically. They use their hands. It's just their style of play, and you have to be able to match that.
“The big thing is to keep a tight paint and make every (shot be) contested.”