Memphis continued to shock the world when it upset heavily favored Oklahoma City in Game 1 Sunday, leading many of us "experts" to think the Grizzlies will pull another shocker and win the series.
I, however, refuse to succumb to such insanity.
(4) OKC vs. (8) Memphis
Memphis stole Game 1 on the road thanks to a Herculean effort from Zach Randolph, who continues to climb the ladder of elite four men. But, don’t forget Marc Gasol’s 9-11, 20-point, 13-rebound performance. That was just downright scary and perhaps even more impressive. The question becomes: Can they do that for a full series though? Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins are two of the NBA’s best post defenders and I have a hard time believing they will let that happen.
The key for the Thunder is to be physical. Gasol likes to bang, but he has a tendency to fade away on shots when you body him up, which is Perkins' forte. Randolph loves to face defenders up and lull them to sleep before firing his patented lefty jumper. Ibaka is long and quick enough to block that weapon. In Game 1, it was as though he forget Randolph could shoot it so well. Expect a much different story in Game 2 on Tuesday night.
Unfortunately, there is a far more pressing issue right now for OKC.
My message to head coach Scott Brooks: Run the offense through Kevin Durant! It seems simple, really it does, but Russell Westbrook is just a little too offensive minded as a point guard right now. It’s as if he forgets he is flanked by the game’s two-time scoring champ. A 9-23 outing is completely unacceptable for any point guard, especially one who’s ill-advised shots are taking away from Durant’s scoring chances.
This is a legitimate problem for this team moving forward. On one hand, you have one of the league’s best young talents in Westbrook. On the other, it’s never a good sign when you’re point guard starts to take over such full reigns of an offense and detract from the team game. This is why the offense seems to operate better at times when backup Eric Maynor is running the show. Maynor can score when needed, but his sole purpose is to defend and make sure OKC's halfcourt offense is properly executed.
But, OKC is at its best when in transition and running the screen-and-roll, with Westbrook leading the charge in the backcourt. But he has to harness his speed and athleticism and realize he can't just decide to isolate whenever he feels like he wants a bucket. And, if he does isolate, he should look to kickout instead of trying to finish himself every single time.
Even despite the issue, I still think the Thunder have a little too much firepower and interior girth to halt Memphis. Look for Durant to have a monster series and for Wesbtrook to play more contained and with more maturity.
Prediction: Thunder in six