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Berry Tramel

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Oklahoma City Thunder: Welcome to paintball

by Berry Tramel Modified: April 21, 2014 at 11:55 am •  Published: April 21, 2014

Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka (9) and Memphis' Zach Randolph (50) fight for a reboun during Game 1 in the first round of the NBA playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Saturday, April 19, 2014. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka (9) and Memphis' Zach Randolph (50) fight for a reboun during Game 1 in the first round of the NBA playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Saturday, April 19, 2014. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

Game 2 of the Thunder-Grizzlies series is Monday night. Don’t expect a change in styles from Game 1. The Thunder will spread the floor and hope Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson can attack the basket and/or find open shots for themselves and teammates. The Grizzlies will get the ball into the lane and turn the game into a shoving match.

OKC won Game 1 100-86 Saturday night, when the Thunder took 27 shots in the paint and the Grizzlies took 55. Memphis had twice as many shots in lane. Of course, many of those shots were contested, which is how Zach Randolph went 7-of-21 and Marc Gasol 7-of-19.

The Grizzlies just don’t have much perimeter game. They took 11 3-pointers, and some of them were not by design. They were out of desperation. Six of Memphis’ 11 3-point shots came as the game clock or shot clock was about to expire. The Grizzlies rarely looked for the deep ball. Noted Thunder killer Mike Miller took just two 3-point shots, making one. Shooting guard Courtney Lee played 29:22 and didn’t take a 3-pointer.

All of which means the Thunder will have to keep playing rugged defense in the interior. And OKC is capable. Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison and Steven Adams all were solid. They made life miserable on Gasol and Randolph.

“Their bigs are a handful, and I thought our bigs did a good job of really battling them and making some of their touches very difficult,” Scott Brooks said. “Randolph had eight offensive rebounds. We have to somehow lower that number, but I liked what we did.”

Some other points about the game:

* Depth will be an issue in this series. The Thunder has it. The Grizzlies don’t.

Gasol played 44:51. He’s 29. He might be able to handle it for awhile. But Randolph is 32; he played 38:45. Tony Allen is 32; he played 32:45. Only Conley, 26, is in his prime. He played 39:09.

Of course, the Thunder has its own issues with minutes. Kevin Durant played 43:09 in a game in which the Thunder led by 25 points with two seconds left in the second quarter. So that was disappointing. But the Thunder bench is deep and versatile. The Grizzlies’ is not.

When the Thunder bench padded a lead to open the second quarter, “I thought we did a good job defensively. I thought our bigs did a good job of keeping them out of the paint and keeping them off the boards. Reggie (Jackson) did a phenomenal job of pushing the ball and finding perimeter guys. He found Caron for a three that I thought was a big play (and gave OKC a 36-18 lead). We played good defense in the second quarter. We did a good job of just continuing to play at the pace that we want to play. To keep pushing the ball, it has to be off of our defensive effort.”

* Scotty Brooks picked and chose when to go small, which is always dicey with Memphis. But Foreman Scotty went small three times — which basically means Durant at power forward — and it mostly worked out.

In the first quarter, Brooks used a lineup of Durant, Caron Butler, Reggie Jackson, Adams and Derek Fisher for 1:25 against a Memphis lineup that was Randolph and role players. That Thunder lineup went 4-4 while on the court those 85 seconds.

In the second quarter, Brooks used Durant, Russell Westbrook, Butler, Fisher and Collison. They played together 1:38 and outscored Memphis 5-2. Randolph was on the bench for that stretch.

And with 9:52 left in the game, Randolph went to the bench with his fifth foul. Brooks responded with a lineup of Ibaka, Butler, Durant, Jackson and Fisher. They expanded OKC’s lead from 72-67 to 83-73 over a span of 3:36. Then when Randolph reentered, Westbrook came in for Fisher, staying small but more athletic, and over the next 3:20, the Thunder outscored Memphis 10-8. So that was 61/2 minutes of small ball, with a 21-14 verdict on the plus side.

But it was good timing. Don’t mess with too much small ball when both Gasol and Randolph are on the court.

* Memphis outscored OKC 73-68 in non-transition points. Think about that. How well the Thunder played. How poorly Memphis played. But when the Thunder wasn’t fast-breaking, it was outscored.

“We can’t gamble in the backcourt,” said Memphis’ Lee. “We have to get back. When Ibaka is blocking shots like that and leading to fast breaks, me and Mike (Miller) or whoever is out there at the guard spot has to realize that and get back.”

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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