After the Thunder and Grizzlies slugged their way through three overtimes in Monday’s Game 4, observers wondered which team would still feel the effects on Wednesday. The Thunder emerged victorious from that epic showdown, but couldn’t afford any letdown if they wanted to seize momentum and a series lead back on their court in Game 5.
History was against them: four of the five teams to win triple-OT playoff games lost the next contest. When the Thunder started the game with four points and six turnovers in the first seven minutes, it looked like they would be the latest such victims.
History didn’t know the Thunder’s opponent, though: a Memphis Grizzlies team that, for all its strengths, just can’t shoot the ball very well.
This Achilles’ heel loomed over Game 4, which Memphis lost despite getting 16 more shot attempts than the Thunder. It was an even greater problem tonight: each team attempted 78 field goals, but the Thunder made 37 of them, to the Grizzlies’ 28.
Repeatedly, the wrong Grizzlies had to launch as the shot clock ran down. Tony Allen and Sam Young combined to hit one of seven shots from outside the paint. Young’s 18-foot brick to start the third quarter almost broke the backboard and led to a breakaway dunk for Kevin Durant, which kick-started a Thunder run.
Young and Allen are poor shooters, but many of Memphis’ other misses looked like the result of fatigue – every Grizzly’s greatest fear. It’s disappointing how easily the Grizzlies fulfilled everyone’s lowest expectations; within 20 minutes after Game 4 ended it was already cliche to predict fatigue would be the next game’s deciding factor. But the cliche proved true: Memphis rimmed out at least 11 layups and saw many outside shots fall short. They also made only 14 of 23 foul shots.
Memphis’ big men appeared to suffer the most from short rest. Zach Randolph was too slow and ground-bound to be effective, scoring in single digits for the first time in the playoffs, while Marc Gasol didn’t attempt a shot for the game’s first 19 minutes.
Even consummate professional Shane Battier looked worn down, making possibly the silliest play of his career when his second-quarter turnover under his own basket led to Daequan Cook’s steal and layup. He exemplified the Grizzlies’ apparent condition: mentally and physically exhausted.
They’ll have to rally if they hope to tie the series on Friday. Tickets for Game 6 sold out in five minutes, so viewers can anticipate a raucous crowd. It won’t matter much, though, if the Grizzlies’ shooting is still set to “Ice Cold.”
In defense of Westbrook: We’ve all read the stories – Russell Westbrook is a selfish jerk, a ball-stopper, and won’t rest until people rightfully acknowledge him, not Durant, as the game’s top scorer. Fun to read, fun to write, fun to argue, but untrue.
Other journalists have already noticed that Westbrook’s excessive shot attempts are frequently due to a lack of options caused by Durant’s inability to get open. That issue has magnified in this series, as Allen, Young, and Battier team up to deny KD the ball in halfcourt sets.
On the flip side, Westbrook has been able to dominate games against Memphis when he drives. His 33 shot attempts in Game 4 were justified based on Conley’s inability to stop him off the dribble.
Tonight, all of his shots were justifiable and most were on balance. The shooting support he got from James Harden, Serge Ibaka, and Daequan Cook meant he didn’t feel the pressure to make something out of nothing that he often does when running the Thunder’s secretly clunky offense.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.