Oklahoma City Thunder: Breaking down the Thunder-Grizzlies matchups

Darnell Mayberry takes a look at the matchups for the Thunder's second-round NBA Playoff series with the Memphis Grizzlies
by Darnell Mayberry Published: May 4, 2013

1. POINT GUARD

REGGIE JACKSON VS. MIKE CONLEY

ANALYSIS: This is a tough, tough matchup for Jackson. The Thunder's second-year floor general has been thrown into the fire following Russell Westbrook's season-ending knee injury but performed admirably in the final four games against Houston. Conley, however, is a couple of cuts above Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley. Not only is Jackson still finding his way on the Thunder and in these playoffs, but he's also still learning his opponents. Jackson has played just 38 minutes against Conley in the last two seasons. And while that unfamiliarity can cut both ways, Jackson's inexperience will be a tough hurdle to clear. Conley is quick, crafty and clever. He's a bulldog defender and a floor general capable of running his team without making many mistakes. No matter how this matchup unfolds, it'll be great experience for Jackson.

EDGE: Conley.

2. SHOOTING GUARD

THABO SEFOLOSHA VS. TONY ALLEN

ANALYSIS: These are two of the best perimeter defenders in basketball. Because of that, we expect they'll spend little time actually matched up against one another. Sefolosha could be assigned to Conley, while Allen could draw the task of slowing down Jackson. But both Sefolosha and Allen have the potential to be game-changers with their strength, length, instincts and toughness. Where Sefolosha can separate himself most is on the offensive end. If he can be the sharpshooter that he was in the regular season, when he made a career-high 108 3 pointers and connected on 41.9 percent from that range, Sefolosha will supply the Thunder a much-needed source of scoring that the Grizzlies will have to respect. Allen, while not a threat offensively, has a knack for scoring easy baskets on run-outs, cuts and putbacks. Quietly, those plays pile up, as they did in the Grizzlies' 4-2 series win over the Los Angeles Clippers. But because the Thunder is much more of a perimeter-oriented team, Allen is more valuable in this series. He can guard every single perimeter threat the Thunder can trot out. And chances are good that he can take them completely out of the offense.

EDGE: Allen.

3. SMALL FORWARD

KEVIN DURANT VS. TAYSHAUN PRINCE

ANALYSIS: Memphis has always had a premier defender for Durant. Remember Shane Battier from two years ago? Well, Prince has taken his place. And the former Pistons linchpin has proved to be up for the job. In 116 minutes with Prince on the court this season, Durant has shot just 39.3 percent and averaged three turnovers. In 51 minutes with Prince on the bench, Durant has shot 66.7 percent and committed just 0.5 turnovers on average. Durant's plus-minus in those splits: plus-6.5 when Prince sits and minus-0.7 when Prince is on the floor. Making things tougher on Durant will be going against the Grizzlies' stout defense without running mate Russell Westbrook on the floor to alleviate some of that attention. It will be a great challenge for Durant and fascinating to see how he fares.

EDGE: Durant.

4. POWER FORWARD

SERGE IBAKA VS. ZACH RANDOLPH

ANALYSIS: Ibaka has gotten better each season, adding a little more to his game every year. But the one skill he needs in this series he still lacks. That's post defense. Ibaka has been no match for Randolph on the low block. Randolph has averaged considerably more points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots while shooting 16.7 percentage points higher when Ibaka is on the floor. The Thunder's best bet might be to cross-match the big men, switching Ibaka onto center Marc Gasol and Kendrick Perkins onto Zach Randolph. Perkins hasn't been able to stop Randolph, but he's generally made him work much harder for his points. The best thing Ibaka can do when he is on Randolph is to stay down on all ball fakes and play as physical as possible without getting into foul trouble.

EDGE: Randolph.

5. CENTER

KENDRICK PERKINS VS. MARC GASOL

ANALYSIS: After seeing his minutes dwindle in the previous series, Perkins now has a chance to again prove his worth. Add to that, the Thunder's big man recently was vocal in his belief that Gasol should not have won Defensive Player of the Year. If that's not enough motivation to string together a stellar series we don't know what is. Gasol, though, earned his recognition as a standout defender. He's considered the Grizzlies defensive anchor and the man who makes everything go. Gasol's also a tremendous passer and shooter, making him a tough cover as well. Some even consider the Spaniard the best center in basketball.

EDGE: Gasol.

6. SIXTH MAN

KEVIN MARTIN VS. JERRYD BAYLESS

ANALYSIS: Martin had an up and down season in his first year with the Thunder and saw his first playoff appearance since 2006 get off to a disappointing start. He made just 30 percent of his shots in the first five games before erupting for 25 points in the series-clincher at Houston. That performance might ignite Martin. It might not. But this much is certain. The Thunder has got to have Martin step up against the Grizzlies defense. If he doesn't, this could be an extremely short series. Bayless, on the other hand, is blossoming into one of the best in the business off the bench. He averaged 11.4 points, 2.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists after the All-Star break, with all 29 of his games over that span coming as a reserve. He's an explosive combo guard who can shoot, slash and finish. Martin, however, has been a more potent scorer for much longer.


by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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