The heroes of Oklahoma City’s 111-102 victory over Memphis that tied their Western Conference Semifinal, in order from least to most expected:
* Eric Maynor - My series preview outlined what an offensive disaster he was against Memphis in his team’s miserable 1-3 regular-season series. He continued his futility in Game 1, but rose from the dead to dial in 15 points and three steals in only 15 minutes while getting a measure of revenge against Greivis Vasquez (scoreless in seven minutes).
* Nick Collison – Neutralized Zach Randolph by keeping him away from his favorite right block turf and forcing him into many awkward shots. Collison’s willingness to keep banging and keep Randolph uncomfortable was the main reason that Z-Bo went 2-13 from the field.
* James Harden – Passive and invisible in the first game, he took the ball fearlessly to the basket tonight and drew 11 free throw attempts, hitting all of them. Oklahoma City’s bench needed to respond after the way Memphis’ second unit toyed with them a game before. Harden and Maynor provided that response on offense, Collison on defense.
* Scott Brooks – Channeled two days of negative press into a strong defensive game plan that took Randolph and Marc Gasol out of their element and forced the Grizzlies to turn to their secondary players. Those auxiliary pieces stepped up, particularly Mike Conley (24 points, though nearly all were on tough jumpers), but not enough to seriously challenge the Thunder.
* Russell Westbrook – Played an efficient 33 minutes that produced 24 points and mostly defensible field goal attempts. Deserves credit for swallowing his ego and allowing Conley to chew him up offensively in the interest of helping to deny Randolph the ball.
* Kevin Durant – Single-handedly stretched his team’s lead from three to eight during a second-quarter run that in retrospect was far more decisive than it seemed at the time: the Thunder’s lead wouldn’t dip below six for the rest of the contest, which up until that point had been evenly matched.
Thunder’s to-do list during the 92-hour wait until Saturday’s Game 3:
- Make sure Subpar Zach Randolph returns. When Z-Bo plays as he did in Game 1 (34 points, 10 rebounds, 9-9 foul shots), the Grizzlies have the inside-outside balance that makes their workmanlike offense formidable. When he struggles for every shot, as he did tonight, Memphis looks weak and vulnerable. Collison, Serge Ibaka and Co. should spend some time preparing responses to any adjustments Randolph could have up his sleeve.
- Keep Marc Gasol invisible. The Grizzlies’ center had people calling Pau “Marc’s brother” after Game 1. Tonight, he seemed to shrink from Kendrick Perkins’ physical challenge, though he still put up 13 points, 10 rebounds, and five blocks. The Thunder are likely convinced that Marc can have his numbers as long as he doesn’t provide the extra piece that Memphis’ offense needs.
- Find matchups to exploit. More art than science: Maynor, as previously mentioned, couldn’t handle Vasquez in Game 1, but was one of the best players on the floor tonight. Brooks brought his bench players in at the right points tonight, and needs to keep examining his rotations. The Thunder lost the first game in large part because they had the wrong combinations on the floor when the Grizzlies’ potent second unit was in. They’ll need to avoid a repeat of those disastrous minutes if they have any hope of regaining home-court advantage on Saturday.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.