The Western Conference semifinal series between the OKC Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies continues with Game 2 on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
And whoever loses will have four days to think about it.
Game 3 won't be held until Saturday at 4 p.m. at FedExForum in Memphis, which is an abnormally long break between games during a playoff series.
Asked if this added any importance to Game 2, most players and coaches stuck to their obligatory “one game at a time” mantra. But imagine Tuesday's loser having to wait all day Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and 16 hours on Saturday before being able to overcome the setback.
A victory would be particularly beneficial to the top-seeded Thunder, which would maintain its home-court advantage after a pulsating 93-91 comeback victory in Game 1 on Sunday.
OKC also will have three practice days to further adjust to the absence of three-time All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, who was lost for the season after knee surgery 10 days ago.
Thunder sixth man Kevin Martin admitted Game 2 could have added importance. “Yeah, I think so,” Martin said, “and of course we want to keep that home-court advantage, so we want to win every game at home. We're up for the challenge and I'm sure they are, too.”
There were several key defensive moments for the Thunder in the closing minutes of Game 1.
One came with 3:25 left. OKC was in the midst of a 7-0 run to tie the score at 84 when Martin blocked a Quincy Pondexter jumper inside the lane that wound up being a jump ball the Thunder later controlled.
Martin, who has been criticized throughout his career for his one-on-one defense, had just eight blocks in 77 regular-season games this year. That's 234 fewer blocks than NBA leader Serge Ibaka.
Playfully asked if Ibaka or any other teammate gave him grief about blocking such an important shot, Martin smiled and deadpanned: “Nah, that's what I do. I block shots. ... No, it was just an in-the-moment thing, doing anything to spark our defense.”
It's understandable how OKC center Kendrick Perkins (1 for 6) and Ibaka (1 for 10) could have been distracted offensively while shooting a combined 2 for 16 from the field in Game 1.
Perkins had to defend 7-foot-1, 265-pound center Marc Gasol while Ibaka was assigned to 6-foot-9, 260-pound power forward Zach Randolph. Gasol and Randolph are considered the NBA's elite frontcourt combination.
Selected as Defensive Player of the Year, Gasol finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots. Randolph had 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Perkins did finish with seven rebounds, while Ibaka had five rebounds and three timely blocked shots.
“I guess we were just locked in on defense,” Perkins said, trying to explain the combined 2 for 16. “Some of the shots Serge had, he's going to make them. … I was just impressed with Serge on how he didn't get down. He kept digging deep and playing defense. I thought that was huge. It just shows he's growing up, shows maturity.”
BREAKS OF THE GAME
Memphis missed 13 shots in the lane and surprisingly was outscored 36-32 in the paint.
Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins was asked what his team could do to improve those numbers in Game 2.
“We're working on it right now,” Hollins said. “We told everybody to go make 100 layups. Come on, man. It's just basketball. They've got two big guys (Perkins and Nick Collison) in there who are really pounding on people, and they've got another big guy (Ibaka) who's coming across the top trying to block shots. That's what makes them a very good team. I'm being funny here, but the more disappointing thing was we missed 10 free throws (14 for 24). We make free throws, we still win the game.
“The game just broke a certain way. I will have a thought in my mind on how I want things to work, but then as the game breaks, it's like horse racing. Sometimes you find yourself out there and you're ahead all alone. You don't slow the horse down and let everybody catch up. You just keep running the race.”
Perkins on the criticism he receives: “You've got probably one out of every 15 (people) that probably say something negative, or say something about, ‘He don't do this' or ‘He don't do that' instead of just appreciating what you bring to the table. At the end of the day, it is what it is. Grandpa always told me, ‘A pair of lips can say anything.' ”