By Randy Renner
Thunder All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook told reporters Sunday he almost let the bears out of the bag.
"It's on me man," he said when asked about the Thunder's lethargic start to the third quarter of Saturday night's 100-86 win. "I've got to do a better job."
That third quarter when Memphis outscored OKC 31-13 is the only wart on an otherwise smooth performance. The Thunder dominated the first half, blocking eight shots which helped lead to 21 Oklahoma City points in transition.
In the third quarter things flipped, Memphis controlled the pace, forced some turnovers, finally hit some shots and almost clawed their way out of the cage Oklahoma City had locked them inside.
"I turned the ball over a few times, pace got real slow. I was lagging, it was my fault. It won't happen again."
The Grizzlies then ran out of gas in the fourth quarter and couldn't contain the deeper Thunder.
What happens tonight, how each team responds to the successes and failures of Saturday night, will go a long way toward seeing which direction this series goes.
The Grizzlies say they can take some comfort in how they dug themselves out of a 25-point hole to get back within just a basket.
"It was real important, we see now what we can do," Grizz forward Zach Randolph said Sunday. "We've got to come like that at the beginning of the game."
Point guard Mike Conley agreed saying, "I thought we did a better job of getting our hands on them and being more physical defensively. We allowed ourselves to slow the game down and get it to our pace."
Thunder guard Derek Fisher fully expects Memphis to play much better tonight so the onus is on the Thunder.
"The question then goes to (us) what type of focus and mindset and concentration do we as a team bring to the game?" Fisher wondered aloud. "And that's where I think the difference will lie."
The Grizzlies will be a bit deeper tonight, forward Tayshaun Prince is expected back tonight after having to leave Saturday's game after only four minutes of playing because of an illness.
Prince had been the primary defender against Kevin Durant during the regular season series between the teams. He held KD to just 40 percent shooting during the minutes they were on the floor together. Durant averaged 52.5 percent shooting against the Grizz in the regular season series overall. Saturday he finished with 33 points.
Just like in the regular season series the Thunder were able to control the Memphis bigs, neither Randolph nor Marc Gasol hurt the Thunder and they were held to a combined 14-for-40 shooting.
The Thunder will need to keep up the pressure on those guys and with quality minutes from the Thunder big man rotation of Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, Steven Adams and even Hasheem Thabeet the Grizzlies run the risk of again running out of gas in the fourth quarter.
That's why it will be especially important for Westbrook and Reggie Jackson, when he's running the point, to keep the pedal to metal and keep the Grizzlies running.
Memphis just doesn't have the quality depth to keep up while keeping good players on the floor.
So tonight that will be the tug-of-war and wills to watch. The Thunder pushing the pace and the Grizzlies trying to pull it back.