Memphis' 94-88 win over the Thunder on Monday night reminded a Chesapeake Arena sellout crowd and national pundits the Grizzlies once again could be a handful in this year's NBA playoffs.
A year ago, Memphis shocked top-seeded San Antonio in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs followed by a rugged seven-game series against the Thunder.
“They're tough. We saw that firsthand last year with the guys they had, and they didn't have Rudy Gay last year,” said Thunder star Kevin Durant. “They're a tough, tough team.”
Tough is the appropriate description.
“Memphis is good,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “They're physical. They're good inside, good outside. They have toughness and they defend. They lead the league in steals and forcing turnovers, scoring off turnovers and offensive rebounds.”
That was the Grizzlies' winning formula in last year's playoffs and again Monday night.
Memphis grabbed 14 offensive rebounds and scored 23 points off 18 OKC turnovers.
Now that All-Star power forward Zach Randolph has returned from a knee injury that sidelined him three months, the Grizzlies have three weeks to build some momentum.
One of the most physical post players in the league, Randolph can be a load. In last year's Thunder/Grizzlies series, he averaged 23.8 points and 12.7 points.
“We feel we match up pretty well with them,” Randolph said. “Every time we play, it's two teams that compete really hard. If we played them again I would think it would be a real tough, drag-out series, probably go seven games like last year.”
But things have changed some since last year's series.
The Thunder, a young team that continues to improve every season, has played as well as any team in the league.