The legend of the 2011 Memphis Grizzlies continues to grow. Days after shocking the Spurs at home in Game 1 of the first round, the 8-seeded Grizzlies started their conference semifinal series off on a high note by taking it to the Oklahoma City Thunder, winning by a final score of 114-101.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook may be the two best offensive players in this series on paper, but it was Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph who ended up stealing the show on Sunday afternoon. Memphis’ towering big men absolutely dominated the Thunder inside; Randolph was deadly around the basket and from the baseline on his way to 34 points and 10 rebounds, and Marc Gasol managed to score 20 points on only 11 shots thanks to some hard-nosed baskets inside and a handful of jumpers from the top of the key. The Kendrick Perkins trade was supposed to keep Oklahoma City’s interior defense from getting abused like it was on Sunday, but nobody told the Grizzlies. Memphis outscored the Thunder 52-38 in the painted area, and managed to pull down 17 offensive rebounds as well.
On defense, the Grizzlies weren’t really able to slow down Kevin Durant (who is?), but they did manage to turn Russell Westbrook into a volume shooter. Westbrook finished the game with 29 points and 6 assists, but he needed 23 shots and 12 free throws to get his points, and committed seven turnovers over the course of the game. Westbrook’s shaky jump shot actually wasn’t the main reason for his struggles on Sunday -- he was 4-8 on shots from outside the paint, but just 5-15 on forays to the basket.
That kind of shooting performance from Westbrook actually isn’t that shocking --During his rookie season, Westbrook was a terrible finisher at the rim, and last year he made barely over half of his shots from inside the immediate basket area. Westbrook seemed to have turned things around this season, and made 60% of his shots at the rim during the regular season, but the Grizzlies were able to get Westbrook’s old demons to re-emerge. With Westbrook playing a high-usage, low-efficiency game, the rest of the Thunder weren’t able to step up offensively. Serge Ibaka was the only other Thunder player to score in double digits, and key 6th man James Harden only managed to put in five points off the bench.
The Thunder have the talent and chemistry to recover from this, but they now find themselves in a 0-1 hole thanks to their two Achilles heels: poor interior defense and Westbrook’s tendency to dominate the ball and waste possessions. Perkins was brought in to solve the former problem, and Westbrook’s maturation has made the latter somewhat less of an issue, but both problems were clearly evident in Game 1. If Oklahoma City can slow down Memphis’ twin towers and get Westbrook running the offense more smoothly, they should be able to get back on track in a hurry. If they can’t, the Grizzlies’ improbable playoff run may not be ending anytime soon.