GRIZZLIES SUCCESS VS. THUNDER IN SEVENTH MONTH
Including their 116-96 preseason victory at the BOK Center in Tulsa on Oct. 12, the Memphis Grizzlies had beaten the Oklahoma City Thunder six of eight times this season heading into Game 4.
Did Memphis coach Lionel Hollins see the game in Tulsa as a foreshadowing to a potential playoff matchup between the two teams. "No, not at all," said Hollins, who seems to live in the moment with every aspect of his team. "And every game we played during the regular season could have gone either way."
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said the Grizzlies' potential had caught his attention the previous season.
"Our games always seem to be close," Brooks said before Oklahoma City's 133-123 triple-overtime win Tuesday night. "We knew they had good size, a good point guard, they had some good defenders. Even when Rudy Gay got injured (in mid-February), we knew they had some perimeter players who could step up and play well. They're a good team. It doesn't surprise us. It's great for Lionel to get the opportunity and take advantage of it, also."
Kevin Durant was taken out of Game 3 down the stretch while being defended by Tony Allen with some help from teammates.
Much of Allen's success against Durant was by playing physically, crowding him and preventing clean catches while forcing Durant away from his desired spots.
Part of Durant's adjustment is learning how much he can get away with when it comes to returning the physical play.
"That's tough to kind of figure out," Durant said before Game 4. "Having a guy that's physical like that and knowing when to push back is tough to figure out. But as the game goes on, I think that I'll get that down, especially in the fourth quarter I guess they'll let me push a little bit more.
"But he's a physical defender. I've faced many physical defenders before. It's just a matter of me adjusting. I've always done that."
Thunder reserve guard Nate Robinson suffered a small cut above his left eye when he took an inadvertent elbow from Robert Vaden during a pregame 3-on-3 contest inside FedExForum. The wound required two stitches. The game was stopped immediately.
NOT AVERAGE BEARS
Memphis is known as the Grizzlies, but assistant coach Henry Bibby playfully refers to his team as a different type of bear that scratches and claws its way to victories while not always looking pretty.
"We're kind of like the Bad News Bears," Bibby said Monday. "We just kind of go out and play basketball. We play hard. Our players are playing hard, which is something we can't always teach as coaches. They've accepted their roles. We've played defense this year like we've never played before."
Memphis reserve O.J. Mayo started defending Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook toward the end of Game 3 on Sunday, but the two are well-acquainted. Mayo was a freshman at Southern California and Westbrook a sophomore at crosstown rival UCLA in 2007-08.
Asked what he tries to do defensively against Westbrook, Mayo said, "Mostly, just stay in front (of him). He's a big-time athlete. When he gets his wheels turning and has an opportunity to get to the basket, he's really, really explosive. So you just try to stay in front of him and contain him a little bit. He's a great player. He's worked on a pull-up jump shot that he's hitting a lot right now, so he's a good player."
Westbrook didn't become a starter in college until the season he faced Mayo.
"He's gotten head-and-shoulders better, even from his UCLA days," Mayo said. "He's a whole lot better. He plays really hard, has a high engine, a high motor and has a knack for just being around the ball."