All great series need a Game 7. The NBA’s answer to March Madness. Advancement for one team; pack up the uniforms for the other.
And this great series, this Thunder-Memphis marathon that has included four straight overtimes and four-point plays and amazing comebacks and the headline heard round the world and Kendrick Perkins using Mike Miller as a park bench and Ray Westbrook’s tweet and Joey Crawford’s mad dash, has a Game 7, at 7 p.m. Saturday in Chesapeake Arena.
But if a great series needs a great Game 7, this one might need to step aside. A series that began with a suspension — Grizzlies backup point guard Nick Calathes, for the NBA’s drug policy — reaches Game 7 with another. Memphis star Zach Randolph is out for punching Thunder rookie Steven Adams in Game 6, and with Randolph could go Memphis’ best hope for victory.
All signs point to the Thunder:
* Home court. Game 7 home teams are 91-23 in NBA history.
“The reason why the regular season is important, in a sense, is now you have an opportunity with one game to decide if you advance,” said Thunder veteran Derek Fisher. “You’ve earned the right to have that in front of your home fans and on your home court. We’ve been great at home all year, and hopefully we can be great at home” Saturday night.
* For a 3-3 series, the Thunder has dominated. The Thunder controlled Game 1 and won by 14, with Memphis mounting a short threat early in the fourth quarter that quickly was repelled. And the Thunder won Game 6 in a rout in which the Grizzlies never got closer than 15 points in the second half. Meanwhile, Memphis’ three victories all have come in overtime.
The Thunder was locked in for Game 6, and it showed. “Our main initiative going to Memphis was get the game back here,” new Thunder starter Caron Butler said. “Do whatever it takes. Box out every possession. Not give up an inch. Do all the little things that we need to do. We met about it, we talked about it and we went out there and did it.”
* And now no Randolph. The Memphis strong man leads the Grizzlies in scoring this series with 18.2 points a game, but he’s needed 104 shots to score his 109 points. Kendrick Perkins and Co. have held Randolph to 40.4 percent shooting in the series, and Adams frustrated Randolph to the point Z-Bo punched the Kiwi in the jaw in Game 6. NBA cameras caught it, and Memphis’ best hope for a breakout scoring game is gone.
Add in the sore hamstring of Memphis point guard Mike Conley, and the Grizzlies bring a fife and bugle corps to OKC.
Seems like the only thing that could derail the Thunder now is complacency. And Kevin Durant, fresh off a slump-breaking Game 6, talks like a man who knows how to avoid relaxing. Fresh on Thunder minds is the sense of urgency with which they played in a 104-84 rout of the Grizzlies on Thursday night.
“It was definitely different from the tip,” Durant said. “We came out and knew our backs were against the wall. So we have to play like that in Game 7. We can’t just do that after a loss, we have to do that after a W as well. We have to come out with a lot of intensity, especially at home.”
Only two of the last 10 Game 7’s have been won by road teams — the Bulls won at Brooklyn last spring, and the Clippers won in Memphis in 2012. But Fisher warns that something strange is going on with homecourt advantage in the NBA playoffs. This postseason, going into Friday’s games, the road teams were 22-20.
“I think the game is changing a lot, and I think that’s why you’re seeing so many road teams winning game in the playoffs,” said Fisher, who has played in four Game 7’s. “That’s something you didn’t see with this type of frequency years ago. I think we all know what’s at stake; at the same time, whichever team is able to come out and play basketball as though it is just another game will be better able to settle in to who you are and what you need to do.”
But who the Grizzlies are, and what they need to do, revolves around Randolph, who they won’t have, and Conley, who is questionable. Thus a great and epic and historic series figures to end not with a bang, but with a thud, which the Thunder will be glad to take.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.