MEMPHIS, Tenn. — No Russell Westbrook. No Derrick Rose. No Luol Deng. No Danny Granger. No Amar'e Stoudemire. No David Lee. The NBA's conference semifinals are rife with stars sidelined by injury.
Only the blessed — the Heat, the Grizzlies, the Spurs — are playing with a full deck. But that doesn't mean a pass for the short-handed squads that will be ushered out of this round. This is the no-excuse playoffs.
Thank the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls have redefined resiliency. Without Rose, Deng and Kirk Hinrich, and with Joakim Noah playing on a foot cursed by plantar fasciitis, which sounds awful and feels worse, the Bulls won a Game 7 in Brooklyn. Then Monday night in Miami, the Bulls beat the Heat with the same tattered lineup.
If Chicago perseveres like that, the Thunder can come to River City and win a game from the Grizzlies to retake control of their West semifinal. Even without Westbrook.
And if not, no excuses.
“It's a strange year with all the injuries,” conceded Nick Collison. “It's been all over the league. Most teams are dealing with it.”
The Thunder has struggled to find its footing without Westbrook, in four games against Houston and in two against Memphis. But few teams have sympathy. Not even the fully stocked Grizzlies, who lost to OKC in a memorable seven-game series two playoffs ago when Memphis played without 20-point-a-game scorer Rudy Gay.
NBA mentality is much more too-bad than so-sad.
“We're not the only team that has lost a star,” Scotty Brooks said. “If you don't believe that you can win without your players healthy, you're not going to win.”
Resiliency has become the calling card of these playoffs. The Warriors have remade themselves without all-star David Lee. Going small and shooting sharp, Golden State might be better without Lee. The Knickerbockers clearly are better without Stoudemire, who never really jelled without Carmelo Anthony.
No one is saying that about the Bulls without Rose and Deng. Or the Thunder without Westbrook.
With Westbrook, OKC would have the advantage at the all-important point guard position. Now Memphis has that edge, with the spectacularly solid Mike Conley.
“You just have to be able to adapt on the fly,” Collison said. “It's a difficult situation to do it. We're not the only team going through it. But the quicker you can adapt and try to play well with the group you've got, the better off you'll be.”
Truth is, the Thunder has been slow to adapt. Its defense has been solid without Westbrook. But its offense has been sporadic.
The Thunder committed 22 turnovers in Houston Game 4 and 21 turnovers in Memphis Game 2. Way too many. Plus, no consistent sidekick has emerged for Kevin Durant.
Durant has been sensational. His six-game numbers without Westbrook: 35.5 points per game, 51 percent shooting, 10.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists.
But while Kevin Martin has posted back-to-back 25-point games, he's also had shooting games of 1-of-10 and 2-of-11. And while during the regular season Serge Ibaka averaged 13.8 points and shot 57 percent, post-Westbrook he's averaged 10.8 points and shot 38 percent.
Durant's most trusted partner has been Derek Fisher, who in Westbrook's absence is averaging 11.2 points a game and has made 16 of 26 3-pointers.
That's inspiring. But it's not enough resiliency. To beat a team as good as Memphis — which was going to be an absolute rugged foe even with a healthy Westbrook — the Thunder has to get everyone playing better.
Westbrook himself says the Thunder has found its competitiveness. After the home loss to Houston in Game 5, “I thought a lot of people was kind of like, ‘Well, maybe they won't be able to do it,'” Westbrook said. “And I think as a team they came together and did a great job going to Houston and taking care of business and playing Thunder basketball. Everybody stepped up. Everybody has a role to increase.”
Yes, everybody does. And if that doesn't happen, the Thunder won't survive Memphis. And excuses won't matter.
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.