It took all 82 games and some slightly more-than-anticipated drama on the final night, but the Thunder finally learned its first-round opponent.
And it’s an all too familiar foe.
OKC faces the same Memphis Grizzlies team that knocked it out of last season’s playoffs, starting with an 8:30 p.m. tip Saturday in The Peake.
“They understand how we play,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “And we understand how they play.”
All too well.
This will be the third time in the past four postseasons that these two Western Conference titans have clashed. OKC knocked the Grizzlies out in 2011 during a wild seven-game tilt that included four overtimes.
Then last season, after Russell Westbrook went down with an injury, the Thunder fell to Memphis in a five-game series that was a lot less lopsided than it sounds. No game was decided by more than six points.
“Gonna be a tough series,” Kevin Durant said. “We got a lot of history with these guys.”
This season, the Thunder handled Memphis well, winning three of the four games in relatively easy fashion. But stretching the series history of these two back to that initial postseason meeting in 2011, it’s a nearly even split. The Thunder has won 12 games, the Grizzlies 11.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Brooks said. “Two (verse) seven, that means zero. It’s us against them. They’re a very good basketball team.”
And a team that’s been far better with Marc Gasol in the lineup. Memphis was 40-19 with their game-changing center this season and 10-23 without him.
Right now, he’s healthy and the Grizzlies are playing well, winning 18 of their last 25 games and capturing 14 consecutive at home to end the season.
“They’re great in the halfcourt and that’s what playoff basketball is about,” Caron Butler said. “They can get in transition and cause problems with (Mike) Conley.”
The Thunder, though, cause problems, too. But Memphis has some solid counters.
Westbrook is a nightmare for anyone, but Conley can be a defensive pest.
Durant is playing the best offensive basketball in the world, but the last time we saw him in a series against Memphis, he looked a bit bewildered.
Without Westbrook, Durant struggled to fight through the physical and frantic Grizzlies defense, led by Tony Allen.
But this time Durant will have Westbrook. And this time the Thunder will be looking for payback.
“Memphis put us out,” Westbrook said. “Now it’s our turn to come back.”
“Now that we healthy,” Kendrick Perkins said. “We get a chance to get a little get back.”