The Grizzlies are in the past. The Clippers are straight ahead. Should be another two weeks of tense basketball.
Let’s take a look at every Thunder player to see how their stock has changed since the playoffs began:
Durant’s stat line against Memphis was excellent: 29.9 points, 9.6 rebounds a game, shooting 44 percent.
But it was a series of highs and lows. Durant in Games 3-6 averaged 26.8 points but shot just 37 percent from the field. Tony Allen made life miserable on Durant.
But Durant found more freedom in the final two games, found his stroke and now goes into the Clipper series full of confidence. With no Allen waiting.
One thing Allen does is prohibit Durant from much driving. Allen had a knack of knocking away Durant’s dribble. That should not be the case against the Clippers’ Matt Barnes. Expect Durant to have a big series against LA.
Through five games against Memphis, Westbrook was playing rather ridiculous. He was averaging 25.4 points, 9.8 rebounds and 7.0 assists, but it was coming at a cost. Westbrook was shooting just 34.4 percent, and he was taking 25.6 shots per game, including 7.6 3-pointers a game.
In the final two games, Westbrook remade himself. Westbrook took just four 3-pointers total the last two games; he made three of them. He had an historic triple double in Game 7 – 27 points, 10 rebounds and 16 assists.
Which Westbrook will show against the Clippers? Chris Paul can bring out the best, and the worst, in Westbrook. Westbrook usually rises to the occasion against both teams from Los Angeles, his home metro. But Westbrook’s mano-mano attitude against Paul can lead to trouble.
The most consistent Thunder. Period. Against Memphis, Ibaka made six field goals in each game, except Game 3, when he made three. Ibaka’s shooting for the series: 6-of-8, 6-of-12, 6-of-10, 6-of-11, 6-of-10, 3-of-6, 6-of-8.
Ibaka made 11 of 12 foul shots in the series. He shot 60 percent from the field, averaged 13.0 points and 8.9 rebounds, and played excellent defense on Marc Gasol. Ibaka also blocked 18 shots.
His defensive assignment in this series will be a little different – battering with Blake Griffin underneath, or playing above the rim with DeAndre Jordan. But Ibaka is a godsend this time of year. You always know what you will get.
Quite a series for Perk. Great defense on Zach Randolph. A revived offensive game, complete with a hook shot and a little one-handed jumper. Perk was not an offensive liability against the Griz.
I assume that won’t continue against the Clippers. And the Thunder doesn’t need it to. The Thunder needs Gran Torino to grab and hold and jostle and wrestle DeAndre Jordan, who likes to fly through the air on transition dunks or pick’n roll dunks.
Perkins can’t join Jordan in the air and keep him away from the ball. So Perk has to keep Jordan away from the rim. Jordan can’t dunk from 10 feet away. Perkins has to impede Jordan flights to the basket. It takes a savvy big man to do that, both in transition and out of transition. Perkins is nothing if not savvy.
Strange but true. Butler shot much better coming off the bench through five games.
Through five games, Butler was averaging just 6.6 points a game and shooting just 34.4 percent but had made eight of 18 3-pointers. Inserted into the starting lineup, Butler averaged 11.0 points a game, but his shooting got worse – 5-of-15 overall, 3-of-9 from 3-point range.
If Butler can be a big factor offensively, it makes tough on the Clippers to use shooting specialist J.J. Redick. But if Butler is just a decoy, Redick can play big minutes and sink a bevy of 3-pointers.
Promising, but inconsistent, series for Jackson against Memphis. He averaged 12.1 points a game, down from his season average of 13.1, but his shooting was solid. Jackson made 47.4 percent of his shots, including 10 of 21 on 3-pointers.
Jackson’s first three games against Memphis were discouraging – 3-of-19 shooting, though he had nine assists.
Then came that breakout Game 4, with 32 points, virtually saving the Thunder season. Jackson had a rough Game 5 (2-of-7 shooting), but over the last four games, he made 24 of 38 shots, including 10 of 15 3-pointers.
Part of the Clippers’ success over recent years has been a quality backup point guard. First Eric Bledsoe, now Darren Collison. But Jackson seems more than capable of neutralizing Collison. If so, that’s a huge boost for OKC.
Thabo started his second game as a Thunder and wasn’t benched for more than five years. Only injury kept him out of the starting lineup. Until Game 6 against Memphis.
And what a dramatic decline. Here are Thabo’s minutes in the Memphis series: 10:49, 31:52, 30:34, 14:52, 8:41, zero, zero.
Sefolosha’s offense has deteriorated all season. He shot a career worst 41.5 percent from the field, and his 3-point shooting was 31.6, after going two straight years in the 40s.
Memphis was not a good matchup for Sefolosha. The Grizzlies don’t have great perimeter players, and while point guard Mike Conley runs the Memphis operation smoothly, he isn’t swayed by increased athletic ability. So there were few reasons to play Thabo.
There will be ample reasons to play Thabo against the Clippers. He’ll need to guard Chris Paul some. Thabo will need to help when the Clippers use two point guards. And Thabo will need to help on Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford.
Collison also was a surprise sit-out, in Game 7. But that’s because Zach Randolph was suspended. Memphis had no one for Collison to guard.
And he won’t be asked to do a ton against the Clippers. Collison will draw some minutes against Blake Griffin. But in all honesty, Collison’s window is closing. He’s still a valuable player, but he’s not quite the physical force he once was. He still knows what to do. He just can’t always do it.
More interesting minutes distribution. Scotty Brooks played Adams just 8:53 combined in Games 2-5. And there were more minutes to be had, since those were the four overtime games.
Then Adams played 20:08 in Game 6 and 25:27 in Game 7, both OKC routs, but Adams wasn’t playing garbage time. He was playing real time.
Adams’ contributions weren’t always tangible, though he had eight points in Game 7. Adams had just four rebounds total in the two games. He had five blocked shots in Game 6, but three came in the final five minutes, when the game was decided.
Adams just showed that he can mix it up against elite competition. Which perfectly describes the Clippers.
Adams gives the Thunder another option on both Griffin, when bulk is needed, and Jordan, when agility and hops are needed. Wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Adams play instead of Collison.
Fisher’s shot has left the building. He made just three of 15 3-pointers in the Memphis series, and Fisher didn’t finish the regular season strong, either.
But he knows how to play. He’s dependable. There’s a comfort in that for Scotty Brooks.
Fisher played double digit minutes in all seven games against Memphis. It should surprise no one if that happens against the Clippers.
Next year, kid.