Oklahoma City Thunder: Time to play paintball

COMMENTARY — Thunder's big men will spend this series wrestling the Grizzlies in the lane.
by Berry Tramel Published: May 4, 2013

Bear wrestling debuted in America on Dec. 11, 1877. Sports Illustrated says so. You can look it up.

We don't much wrestle bears anymore. Sort of the same way we came to our senses and quit wrestling Haystacks Calhoun. There's not much future in it.

Bear wrestling these days is mostly limited to legend — that's how Bear Bryant got his name, and just-drafted Lane Johnson of OU fame duped Philadelphia media with a bear-wrestling fable.

Unless you count certain NBA games involving the Memphis Grizzlies. Grizzly bears don't get much east of the Oklahoma Panhandle, but that hasn't stopped the Memphians from trotting out a ballteam befitting its name. A ballteam that will make you jump out of the ring, as Paul William Bryant did as a boy in Fordyce, Ark.

Get ready for some sumo basketball as the Thunder-Grizzlies series starts Sunday. I know we're all used to greyhound hoops after six games watching the Houston Rockets, but Memphis doesn't even play the same sport as the Rockets.

That was streetball. This is paintball. With Houston, the paint was nothing more than an HOV lane. Get in. Get out. With Memphis, the paint is headquarters.

The paint is where the wrestling takes place and the games are won. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol pushing; Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka shoving.

The perimeter decided the OKC-Houston series. The paint was something you tried to keep dribblers out of. The paint will decide the OKC-Memphis series. Lion-hearted guards are more than welcome to enter the lane and are encouraged to share their stories should they be so fortunate as to survive.

“This is like night and day, playing against a fast, fast, streetball type of team in Houston, to a grind-it-out game here in Memphis,” said Kevin Durant.

“That's their DNA. That's what they do. And that's what we do. Guys are going to go out there, pushing and shoving. It's going to be a really physical series.”

It certainly was two years ago, when the Thunder survived seven brutal games and marched on to the West finals with wraps around their heads and crutches under their arms.

That's the way Memphis plays — two accomplished big men who have no problem smelling the blood of an Englishman. That's the way the Thunder can play, which is about the only reason you can give OKC any hope in this series.

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by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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