The latest wrinkle in this superb Thunder-Grizzlies series involves a scheme to stop Russell Westbrook.
Memphis, keeping consistent with its tendency to throw the kitchen sink at Oklahoma City, has unleashed bulldog defender Tony Allen on the Thunder's All-Star point guard. The Grizzlies unveiled their latest strategy from the opening tip of Game 5.
Only the Thunder made such quick work of the Grizzlies — turning a first-quarter stalemate into a second-quarter breeze and, eventually, a second-half rout — that Memphis' modification never had much of a chance to make an impact.
But don't be surprised if the Grizzlies, now facing elimination, stick to the same strategy in Friday night's Game 6 inside FedExForum and hope for stronger results. The decision by the Grizzlies is designed to put the clamps on Westbrook. But the move also sparks a series of side effects.
Most importantly, Allen exerting his energy on Westbrook means he isn't attached to Thunder forward Kevin Durant. That's a good thing for the Thunder. It was Allen's “grit, grind” mentality that shut down Durant in Game 3, limiting the reigning two-time scoring champ to 2-for-10 shooting in the fourth quarter and overtime in the Grizzlies 101-93 win. With the Grizzlies unable to control Westbrook, though, Memphis has moved point guard Mike Conley over to Thabo Sefolosha and assigned Sam Young to Durant.
“Tony Allen is a good defender, and that tells you just how good he is,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He can guard the best scorer in the league and one of the quickest, toughest point guards to guard in the league.”
Or can he?
Though the sample size is incredibly small, Allen didn't seem to have a huge impact Wednesday. In the early going, Westbrook still was able to get to his desired spots and create good looks at the rim or from mid-range while also setting up his teammates for quality shots. The Thunder already runs a number of high screens for Westbrook, but the amount could increase to help free Westbrook even more and pressure Allen into more struggles.
“When he's guarding Russell, we just have to put him in different spots,” Brooks said. “Pick and rolls are hard for even the great defenders to guard, and Russell's a terrific pick-and-roll player.”
Allen on Wednesday attempted to exploit one of Westbrook's biggest weaknesses, his still inconsistent jumper. Allen intentionally gave Westbrook space on screens and isolations, backing up and giving up the jumper.