The Memphis Grizzlies have what it takes to make this series a very difficult one for the Oklahoma City Thunder, but an upset? Right now they don’t have an answer for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who sprinted for a fast break finish after every miss or mistake the visitors made, pulling off a 100-86 series opening win in game 1.
The Thunder finished with 32 points on the fast break, even though the Grizzlies turned the ball over just six times. It came from making the most of every defensive rebounds, as either Westbrook or Durant rockets forward while the Grizzlies were very slow to get back on defense during the first half. Durant scored 33 points and Russell Westbrook added 23, and their bad half court offense didn’t matter with so many good looks in transition.
Give credit to the Thunder’s defense for making the Grizzlies look so bad, held to only 34 points in the first half, entering the locker room with a 22 points deficit. The Grizzlies shot an embarrassing 12-of-48 from the field in the first half, a franchise low for the Grizzlies in any half they’ve had in a postseason game. They did manage a comeback, pulling the game within two midway through the fourth quarter, but the inability to hit 3-pointers (2-of-11 from beyond the arc) and overall shooting horribly from outside the paint denied them making this a close game until the final moments.
The Grizzlies’ plan on Kevin Durant when the offense was standing worked. Durant didn’t get to the line too often (4-of-6), but he had too many open looks on the open court, with no one being able to catch up with him. Tony Allen did a solid job on him, keeping Durant on 36% from the field when he was guarding him, but the rest of those who tried didn’t do all that well, as Durant scored 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting (73%) against everyone else.
But there was more than just the two stars to the Thunder’s win. Serge Ibaka had 4 blocks and 17 points, punishing the Grizzlies for double teams and for going in blindly into the paint. Caron Butler scored “only” 9 points, but seems to be an excellent addition for the Thunder as another player who can stretch the floor but also score points on his own. Reggie Jackson wasn’t very accurate, but set a high pace, finishing with 9 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists.
If this series continues to look like a track meet, the Grizzlies don’t stand much of a chance. Zach Randolph (21 points) is hard to stop inside, and the same goes for Marc Gasol. Mike Conley is going to have his moments as well. But the Grizzlies need to find some offensive rhythm that isn’t just about grinding the ball in the paint, and most important keep the Thunder from exposing them so badly on transition offense. The Thunder don’t care about low percentages and slightly sloppy play, as long as they can keep on running. What that happens, they look like the best team in the NBA.