MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Former Oklahoma State standout Tony Allen was speaking of his Memphis Grizzlies, but he just as easily could have been discussing the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“We know that every game you try to be a piece to a puzzle and each individual understands that, knowing their role,” said Allen, one of the NBA's premier defenders. “Most important, we're playing for each other. We understand that. We're a help-the-helper team on the defensive end and we know exactly what we want to do offensively. So the game plan is already set. It's on us to go out there and execute.”
Like the Grizzlies, the Thunder tries to make all its pieces fit.
However, the OKC puzzle is missing one of its center pieces in three-time All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, who had season-ending knee surgery on April 27.
As a result, some of the other pieces don't quite fit like they used to.
With its 87-81 loss to the Grizzlies in Game 3 at the FedExForum, the Thunder now trails this best-of-7 playoff series 2-1.
OKC and Memphis are elite teams defensively, which has been easily evident throughout a series where neither team has reached triple-digits.
Teams with the same core values also helps explain why this Western Conference semifinal already has had 49 lead changes and 32 ties in 12 quarters.
Game 3 brought more of the same with 13 lead changes and eight ties. The final tie came at 81 with 1:58 remaining after OKC had fought back from a 10-point deficit, but the Thunder failed to score again as the Grizzlies closed the game with a 6-0 run.
“We know they're a tough team,” Allen said of the defending conference champion Thunder. “They've been to the promise land before. They've been to the Finals and they know what it takes to win. We're not putting nothing past those guys, so we're just focusing on us.”