By Randy Renner
The Thunder and the Grizzlies have been down this road before but never in the first round. The two previous meetings have come in the conference semi-finals with each team winning one series.
Now the two familiar foes tangle in round one and from a Thunder perspective two things stand out when looking a season stats.
Shooting percentage and rebounding.
The Thunder are 25-4 when they shoot 50% or better and they are 44-8 when they outrebound their opponent.
In the regular season series with the Grizzlies the Thunder outrebounded Memphis in all four games but shot above 50% just once and finished just under that mark (49.4%) in another. The only game in the regular season the Thunder lost was by far their worst shooting game (40.7%) in that 90-87 loss on January 14th.
The Thunder defense held Memphis to 42% shooting or less in three of the four games but that one loss in the series came in a game that saw the Griz shoot just 40%.
So in this when shooting percentages are likely to be less than 50% for both teams that makes rebounding even more important and offensive rebounding more important still.
In the regular season series Thunder rookie center Steven Adams got more offensive rebounds (13) than anyone else from either team. The Grizzlies Zach Randolph was second with 11 offensive boards.
The Thunder spent most of their Friday practice going over game film and trends, they did much the same today at shootaround.
"It was more about us today than anything," said Thunder forward Caron Butler, "just making sure that we knew the rotations and the scheme in the game plan. Knowing where our opportunities are going to come from"
Some of those opportunities will likely come beyond the arc and Butler could come up big for the Thunder. Since joining the team he's shooting 44.1% on long balls, the only Thunder player over 40% on threes, Kevin Durant is the next closest at 39.1%.
KD has seemed to struggle with his shot at times during the last few games of the regular season. He had a great fourth quarter against Detroit but still he was just 1-for-5 on threes in that game, 2-for-11 on 3-pointers at Indiana and 1-for-7 from deep on April 9th against the Clippers.
Durant has said time and again he's not tired, even though he played more minutes in the regular season than any other player in the NBA.
Today after shootaround Durant said he's pretty calm and pretty determined heading into this series.
"I'm peaceful man, it's just another basketball game, I mean I know it means more but to me when I leave the gym I just try to release from it all and enjoy myself and once I came in here just really focus on it," he said.
But he also admitted, basketball and his team, are never really out of his thoughts.
"In the back of my mind I'm thinkin' about the game and trying to figure out what I have to do to lead my team and how well I have to play on both ends of the floor and I always tell myself to be a great leader, a great encourager and everything else will fall in after that."
The Thunder certainly seem to be laser focused in on the Grizzlies. The same probably could not be said of their mental efforts against the Pelicans in New Orleans on Monday nor against the Pistons at home on Wednesday.
But those were the last games of an 82 game regular season and today begins something completely different.
"We're just ready to play," Butler said. "Everybody is tired of beaten up on each other. It's time to get an opponent in front of us and see where everything lies."
Tipoff for Game 1 is late tonight, not till at least 8:30 but that could slide to as late as 8:45. The national telecast will be on ESPN tonight with Mike Tirico, Hubie Brown and Heather Cox. The local gang from Fox Sports Oklahoma, Brian Davis, Grant Long and Lesley McCaslin will have all of the first round games.