Foes that are used to each other. The Memphis Grizzlies without injuries would have never ended up so low in the Western conference, while the Oklahoma City Thunder are probably still undecided on whether or not they’re better off with or without Russell Westbrook, knowing that despite Kevin Durant being MVP’ish this season, him alone isn’t going to be enough.
Defense is the word of the day in this series, despite the Thunder being the 7th best offense in the league with 106.8 points per 100 possessions. Their defense allows just over one point per possession; slightly better than Memphis, giving up 1.01 points per possession. A lot of it has to do with Marc Gasol missing such a huge chunk of the season early on, while Tony Allen and Mike Conley have also had their issues with healthy, but OKC are often overlooked as a great defensive team because of how good Durant and Westbrook make them look on offense.
There’s no secret who the most important player for Oklahoma City is. Kevin Durant averaged 32 points per game this season and will win the MVP when the voting is announced, the first time in his career. Durant creates so many mismatches and problems for defenses even without any real offensive scheme going on. He can score from anywhere on the court, and especially from the right side, even when pulling up with a hand in his face for 3-pointers. It means the world to the Thunder, willing to give up on set plays just so Durant has his freedom.
But there’s the presence of Kendrick Perkins and Adams in the paint, while Ibaka might be the best blocker in the league. Thabo Sefolosha has declined as a wing defender, but he is still very good. The problem is for him that there’s no “special” target on the other end. Memphis don’t operate like other teams, and we’re not going to see Sefolosha guard Mike Conley for too many minutes.
The Grizzlies have Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph to go to, while Conley, often an underrated point guard on both ends of the floor, brings them a few sparks of outside offense that hardly exists in the Grizzlies’ offensive lexicon, being the team that relies on 3-point shooting less than any other in the league. The Thunder are probably better when they go into a small ball kind of look, without a “true” center, but against two guys like Gasol and Randolph they probably won’t be able to do that too often.
Prediction – The Thunder have revenge on their mind, and although Memphis can make this series interesting, Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince aren’t good enough to make Durant look bad, and the best the Grizzlies can probably do is make this a seven game series. It’ll probably end in six.