After defeating the #7 Memphis Grizzlies in game one, the #2 Oklahoma City Thunder will look to continue their playoff run on a strong note in game two (Monday, 8pm ET). Once again the Thunder will be favored at home.
Entering this postseason the Thunder found themselves with both a target and a burden on their back. The team is neither the defending NBA champions nor are they the Western Conference defending champs. Those accolades belong to the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, two teams that are on a collision course to potentially meet again in the NBA Finals.
That said, the Thunder effectively take the place as this year’s “best team not to have won an NBA championship” and with the New York Knicks out of the postseason that means Kevin Durant (pictured), an MVP candidate and scoring title holder once again, is the best player not to have won a championship.
Durant and the Thunder had their chances in recent years and they are perennial competitors in the Western Conference Finals. In the past it was youth and inexperience that doomed Oklahoma City but that is not the case this year. This team is no longer the young, baby-faced tandem of rookie and sophomore talent but rather a playoff-tested veteran squad that is hungry and perhaps more determined than ever.
This fight and determination definitely showed in the Thunder’s first playoff game of 2014. While the higher seeded LA Clippers and Indiana Pacers both fell at home, Oklahoma City took care of business. The team easily dispelled the Grizzlies by a score of 100-86. This was the largest defeat of the night and was led on by Durant’s 33 points including 13 of which that came in the fourth quarter.
The Thunder needed the push because the Grizzlies outscored Durant’s team 31-13 in the third quarter. But like any superstar should, Durant took over the game when he needed to.
To say that the league’s scoring champion is an x-factor might seem like a cop out but I assure you it isn’t. Durant’s teammates in Serge Ibaka (17 PTS, 9 REB – game one) and Russell Westbrook (23 PTS, 10 REB – game one) are more than serviceable but the Thunder can and will only go as far as Durant takes them. He is to the Thunder what Lebron James is to the Heat or Derek Rose to the Chicago Bulls. Without Durant, the Thunder would crumble especially against the scrappy Memphis team.
Does the Memphis D Stand a Chance against OKC’s Scoring Prowess?
That is the big question for the Grizzlies and one that was answered pretty solidly in game one. Despite finishing third in the NBA in points allowed, Memphis was unable to stop or even limit the production of Durant and co.
Now guys like Durant are going to get theirs so seeing him post 33 isn’t that alarming. What is alarming however is the fact that Durant was not the only one in double digits. Westbrook and Ibaka also put up 15+.
Perhaps the silver lining to this though is that these three scored 75 points and the Thunder still managed to only finish with 100. Their bench scoring was basically nonexistent and so was the production of the other two starters. The Memphis D clamped down and did their job and really all the offense needed was more consistency and the Grizzlies could have won.
But that said, offense hasn’t exactly been Memphis’ strength this season. In fact, the Grizzlies finished the year ranked 27th in points per game, 19th in rebounds per game and 14th in assists per game. Their leading scorer, Zach Randolph, averaged 17.4 PPG and 10.1 RPG. To put that into a relevant context, Westbrook averaged 21.8 PPG and that was only second best on the Thunder team.
The Grizzlies will have a shot to win just like they did in last year’s Western Conference Semis but it is going to take a much more consistent effort. Offensively, the Grizzlies will need more than just 86 points and defensively, the team will have to try to find a way to at least limit Durant’s second and third in command.
Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder Betting Picks
Oklahoma City may not be the number one seed in the Western Conference but that doesn’t mean they aren’t the favorites to reach the NBA Finals. This is a young team but one that has the experience needed to take them far. This is also a team that has something to prove and that has been fielded questions of whether an NBA championship is a hurdle they can climb.
Defeating the Grizzlies at home in game one was a good start and doing it again in game two will also be good. The Thunder have been dominant at home and Durant is on a tear. He too is out to prove he can win in the postseason and that he can be mentioned in company with James. As long as he keeps playing this way, there is nothing Oklahoma City can’t do.