Four questions for five writers, previewing the remainder of the Thunder-Grizzlies Western Conference semifinals:
1. Fact or fiction: For the Thunder to win, KD must score 30+ points.
Darnell Mayberry (beat writer) - Fact. Without the scoring abilities of Russell Westbrook, the offense is all on Durant’s shoulders. Unless of course you’re banking on Kevin Martin to be consistent or Derek Fisher to continue erupting for 19 points. Once upon a time this Thunder team was best when everybody was involved offensively and a threat to score. Those days appear to be long gone. Not sure if it’s the pressure of the playoffs or simply the loss of Westbrook as a non-stop threat. But the role players who likely yearned for more a month ago have looked unable to consistently step up their games now that it matters most. That leaves Durant to do it all.
John Rohde (beat writer) - Fact. And if Serge Ibaka and Kevin Martin don’t show up more consistently, KD might have to score 40-plus. If OKC’s top six players could score two baskets above their average, Russell Westbrook’s 23 points no longer would be missing and KD could play more freely.
Berry Tramel (columnist) - Fact. Durant has to score big for the Thunder to win. Especially against Memphis, which isn’t likely to allow nominal scorers to have much production. It’s going to take elite performance to score on the Grizzlies, and that’s mostly Durant. Thirty is mandatory for OKC.
Jenni Carlson (columnist) - Fact. I’d love to be able to say otherwise, but the evidence is that Durant has to score big for this team to win. No other player is a for-sure on the offensive end. Not Kevin Martin. Not Serge Ibaka. Not Reggie Jackson. Not Derek Fisher, though he’s as close as anyone. Without a consistent second scoring option, Durant has to score and score a lot for the Thunder to win.
Anthony Slater (sports blogger) – Fiction. I could see them somehow squeaking one out with only 29 from KD. But it’d probably have to come with about 17 assists. Because let’s face it, he’s their only consistent playmaker. In a narrow Game 1 win and six-point Game 2 defeat, Durant was responsible for 107 of OKC’s 186 points. He either scored or assisted on 57.5 percent of their offense, a ridiculous clip and telling number. Everything runs through KD and if he’s not Superman, the Thunder won’t win.
2. What is the biggest adjustment OKC must make going forward? Memphis?
Mayberry - Well, after Game 2, rebound. The Thunder cannot allow 16 offensive rebounds to this Grizzlies team. It’ll be a short series if that continues. The adjustment is rebounding by committee. The guards have got to help out the big men. Because it wasn’t the Grizzlies’ low post players that destroyed the Thunder on the glass, it was the wing players. Of the Grizzlies 16 offensive rebounds, 10 were gobbled up by wing players. Meanwhile, in my mind, Memphis has controlled this series for the majority of its eight quarters. The Grizzlies will be just fine if they keep doing what they’re doing but just do it better.
Rohde - To quote coach Scott Brooks in Game 2, “Grab the (darn) rebound.” If you make Brooks curse, you’re failing miserably. I’ve never seen a team so inconsistent in rebounding. OKC was great in Game 1 and horrendous in Game 2. Show up to rebound every game and you’d be amazed how other things fall into place.
Tramel - Adjustments are always ongoing. Immediately, the Thunder must counter Mike Conley. That means Thabo Sefolosha has to dog Conley and try to keep the Memphis point guard out of the lane. The biggest Thunder problem is rebounding — it has to keep the Grizzlies off the boards. But that’s not an adjustment. That’s just playing better. Memphis adjustments? Playing Tony Allen more on Durant. Allen proved down the stretch of Game 2 that he can be a thorn in KD’s side, despite Lionel Hollins saying Allen really isn’t big enough.
Carlson - Oklahoma City has to do a better job on Mike Conley. When he scores like he did in Game 2, he opens up so many more options for Memphis offensively. He has to be contained better moving forward. As for Memphis, I don’t see any huge adjustments. I see more Tony Allen on Durant, but since that’s something the Grizzlies have done before, I don’t see that as major. More of a tweak.
Slater - Agree with you, Berry. Let Thabo hound Conley for 30 minutes. Maybe it can stunt the Grizzlies offense, similar to how it affected Tony Parker and the Spurs in last year’s WCF. Conley torched Reggie Jackson in Game 2, who overhelped too many times and got burned on two of the biggest possessions of the game. And the Grizzlies, well, they better contain Ray Allen, I mean Derek Fisher, on the perimeter. Double-team if you have to, just don’t leave the 38-year-old. Kidding…kind of.
3. Against the Grizzlies, who is the Thunder’s best five-man lineup?
Mayberry - I’m not sure that there is a best. Because against this team, different lineups work well at different times. We saw the small lineup with Durant and Ibaka up front have success on the offensive end in the second quarter of Game 2. But that unit soon began struggling on the defensive end. Data shows that the Thunder’s defense is much better with Kendrick Perkins on the floor. But the team struggles on the offensive end with him. So most lineups seem to have a few major strengths but some serious weaknesses as well. It’s become the norm around here to second guess Scott Brooks, but the man truly has his hands full in this series trying to figure it all out.
Rohde - Depends who’s on the court for Memphis. If Gasol and Randolph are both resting, go with Durant, Ibaka, Martin, Thabo and Jackson/Fisher. If Gasol is in, go with Durant, Perkins, Thabo, Ibaka/Martin and Jackson/Fisher, If Randolph is in, go with Durant, Collison, Thabo, Ibaka/Martin, Jackson/Fisher. If both are playing, pray your bigs aren’t in foul trouble.
Tramel - Well, if Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph is taking a breather, the Thunder should immediately go small — Durant, Thabo, Kevin Martin and either Derek Fisher or Reggie Jackson, makes me no never mind, with one of the bigs. If it’s Gasol on the court, keep Perkings out there. If it’s Randolph on the court, go with Ibaka or Collison. A lineup of Durant, Ibaka, Thabo, Martin and Jackson/Fisher is incredibly hard to defend.
Carlson - I’d go with Jackson, Thabo, Durant, Collison and Ibaka. That means Serge is guarding a bigger Marc Gasol, but since Gasol has a game that extends out toward the three-point line, Ibaka might actually be able to guard that aspect of his game better than Kendrick Perkins.
Slater - How about going small more, particularly late in the game? I’m thinking RJackson, K-Mart, Sefolosha, KD and Ibaka. That probably sounds like blasphemy against this monstrous frontline, but hear me out. Use Durant the way Miami uses LeBron against bigger teams. Throw him on Marc Gasol (it actually worked well in brief spurts during Game 2) and Ibaka on Randolph, or vise versa. Your defense may suffer a bit, but Memphis still must cross-match in unique ways that could free up some open shots. Just a thought.
4. Who you got? How many games?
Mayberry - Memphis. In five. The Grizzlies controlled both the games in Oklahoma City. Can’t see how that doesn’t only get worse for the Thunder in Memphis. At that point, the Grizzlies would just have to not screw up in Game 5.
Rohde - Somebody in six. If Martin and Ibaka wake up offensively, it’s the Thunder in six. If it remains as it is now. Memphis in six.
Tramel - Memphis in six. The Grizzlies just make it so hard to score. Without Russell Westbrook, the Thunder probably doesn’t find enough points to get a win in Memphis.
Carlson - Grizzlies in 6. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it go seven games, but the way things are going right now, Kevin Durant doesn’t have enough help on the offensive end and the Thunder isn’t doing enough defensively to make up for that.
Slater - Grizzlies in 6, but that prediction changes to Thunder in 7 if they can get one of these next two in Memphis (certainly possible). The Grizzlies are (and should be) favored moving forward, but it’s tough to see OKC losing a winner-take-all in front of its frenzied crowd. Question is, can they get it there?
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