If last year after losing in the NBA finals Kevin Durant looked sad, he looked exhausted and empty after losing in 5 games to the Memphis Grizzlies. It’s hard to say when looked more pitiful. Zach Randolph pulled a number on him and his entire front line by destroying them in the paint, while Tayshaun Prince, Marc Gasol and Tony Allen did on the defensive end.
Just looking at Kevin Durant’s last miss explains just how much Gasol managed to hurt his, and the Thunder’s confidence in general. They scored only 38 points in the paint, with Durant limited to only 5. He had a wide open lane towards the basket as the Thunder had the opportunity to tie the game, but he prefered to pull up for a jumper, with a defender breathing down his neck. Maybe it was exhaustion, fatigue or a shaky confidence. It went out, and the Thunder were knocked out at home, winning only one game in the series and going 3-6 since Russell Westbrook was put on the DL.
Beyond all the individual accomplishments the Grizzlies have to count, it’s about the franchise, which was a complete failure during its days in Vancouver, reaching the conference finals for the first time in 19 years. The same group that faded away against the Thunder in that amazing series a couple of years ago was too good, too resilient and too focused this time to let it drop. It also didn’t have Russell Westbrook to deal with, but injuries are part of the game. The Grizzlies were the better team in all five games, dropping the first only because of a wild finish by Kevin Durant.
The Grizzlies kept going to the post up (22.55% of their offense), especially through Zach Randolph. He finished with 28 points and 14 rebounds, and when he missed he usually made up for it by going to the line. On his post up plays, Randolph averaged 1.31 points per possession. He averaged 25.5 points on the final two games of the series after a rough start in the first three.
Tayshaun Prince struggled with Durant in the first game, but the different looks the Grizzlies threw at him finally worked. He was only 5-21 from the field in the final game, and another terrible fourth quarter, making only one field goal out of his five attempts, turning the ball over three times, including twice to Tony Allen. The same Tony Allen who helped the Thunder get back in the game by throwing a towel next to Derek Fisher, helping the point guard complete a four point play without even making the shot.
What Marc Gasol did through out the series won’t go down in numbers. Holding Kendrick Perkins to 2.4 points isn’t the biggest achievement in the world, but he did finish with only 17.4% from the field, grabbing only 4.2 rebounds per game. Initially, some said that the Thunder have the right kind of bigs duo to handle what the Grizzlies are going to throw at them. That proved to be wrong on both ends of the floor, as Ibaka was forced way out and away from the basket, finishing with 12.6 points and 37.7% from the field in the series against them. Without Westbrook, with a fading Durant and a very disappointing Kevin Martin, that was way short of enough.
Memphis suddenly look like the favorites to reach the finals out of the West, regardless of their opponents in the next round. All their games against the Thunder were close, but it seems like they have the right kind of formula, on offense as well, to handle anything that comes their way. Getting a little bit of rest (hopefully not too much) surely won’t hurt their chances of taking the franchise record a step further in a couple of weeks.