By Randy Renner
For the third time in the last four years the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies are set to meet in the NBA Playoffs.
Three seasons ago the Thunder won a thrilling seven game series that included a triple-overtime instant classic propelling them into the Western Conference Finals. Last season, again in the semifinals, the Grizzlies took advantage of the loss of Russell Westbrook to beat the Thunder in five games.
This time around who knows what the outcome will be but it stands to reason the winner of this series might be a bit banged up moving forward to the semis.
In the regular season OKC took three of four from Memphis and the Thunder didn't have their regular starting lineup on the floor in any of those four games. Memphis used the lineup they will likely go with on Saturday night in two of the four games, including the only contest Memphis won.
Two of the games were low scoring also including that Grizzlies win, 90-87 in Memphis on January 14th. The other was an 86-77 Thunder win on February 3rd.
That loss in Memphis came just after the Grizzlies acquired Courtney Lee and he went off for 24 points that night to lead the Griz. Zach Randolph came up big too with 23 points and 13 rebounds but Marc Gasol wasn't much of a factor.
Kevin Durant led the Thunder that night with 37 points and Reggie Jackson, filling in for Russell Westbrook, had 17 points and seven turnovers.
Neither team shot well, OKC 40.7 percent the and Grizzlies right at 40 percent. The Thunder were 5-for-21 on threes, Memphis was 4-for-14. One of the differences came at the free throw line. The Grizzlies were 22-for-27 and OKC got to the line just 20 times, making 16. Z-Bo scored nine of his 23 points at the line.
Points in the paint were close (42-40 Memphis) and so were rebounds (45-42 OKC).
The other advantage Memphis had that night was the Thunder offense got bogged down, just 12 assists and 19 turnovers. Memphis was almost exactly opposite with 19 helpers and 13 givebacks.
The low scoring game the Thunder won was dominated by the OKC defense. Memphis shot just 39.5 percent overall and 12.5 percent (2-for-16) on threes. The Griz didn't get to the line much (11-for-15) were outrebounded 44-35 and neither Randolph nor Gasol was much of a factor each scoring 13 points. Lee was shut down that night too, held to 11 points on 3-for-10 shooting and 1-for-6 on threes.
The high scoring games both went to the Thunder 116-100 on December 11th in Memphis and 113-107 in OKC on February 28th.
The Thunder shot 56.3 percent in the December game and 49.4 percent in February. In the December game Durant had just 18 points. Westbrook came up big that night with 27, Jackson had 17 and Jeremy Lamb dropped 18 on the Griz going 7-for-9 overall and 3-for-4 from deep.
Gasol didn't play in that game and Z-Bo finished with 17 on 5-for-12. The Grizzlies outrebounded the Thunder that night 42-33 and forced OKC into 21 turnovers. But the Thunder hit nine 3-pointers that night and outscored Memphis 32-20 in the second quarter to give themselves a cushion to work with. Thabo Sefolosha missed that game, Andre Roberson filled in scoring seven points and grabbing four rebounds.
In the February game the Thunder led by as many as 19 but let much of that slip away in the fourth quarter when the Grizzlies outscored them 36-26 when Mike Miller went off for 19 points. Durant had 37, Russ 21 and Reggie 14. Randolph and Gasol were a combined 12-for-24 for 30 points and 13 rebounds.
The game was won at the foul line where OKC made seven more than the Grizzlies shot, 27-for-32 for the Thunder to 15-for-20 for Memphis.
The common theme running through the series in the regular season was the Thunder didn't let Gasol and Randolph burn them down. Getting to the free throw line was critical. In three of the four games the team that took the most free shots won the game. In the other (the 116-100 Thunder win) OKC shot one less free throw but made one more than Memphis.
In the four games the Thunder scored 402 points (100.5 ppg) and Memphis scored 374 (93.5 ppg).
What does all that mean as far as this playoff series is concerned? Who knows, especially since the Thunder had someone different in their starting lineup every game and Memphis used what has become their starting lineup just twice.
But it does show that not every game these teams play is a slow, plodding, grind it out slugfest. It also shows that when Westbrook is running the point, the Grizzlies have no answer. Westbrook averaged 24 points and 7.5 assists in the two games he played.