The seesaw series between Memphis and Oklahoma City has been full of fast play and highlight reel mania. So, it's a bit ironic that the key factor is something as unsexy as bench play.
If Game 5 is any indication, Oklahoma City has a dramatic advantage in this department. And, for those who thought Memphis may not be missing the injured Rudy Gay that much (myself included), the Grizzlies' lack of depth is where his absence really comes into play.
The Thunder's destruction the Grizzlies in Game 5 was caused by a few issues. The heavy Game 4 minutes of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph -– they each played close to 60 –- was a huge factor, and one I harped on during my radio spot in Memphis before tip off. Telling is that Gasol led the team in scoring … with 15 points.
Defensively and on the glass, the normally hyperactive Grizzlies were abnormally slow. They got pounded on second chance points (18-9) and worse, were beat badly in the transition game, surrendering a 20-7 disadvantage.
But not having a big time scorer like Gay can really hurt them when the always crucial matter of depth comes into play. Make no mistake, this team has depth, but what we saw in game 5 is that they lack a true No. 1 perimeter threat. O.J. Mayo can be that guy at times, but he tends to deviate from the half-court set and hasn’t shown enough consistency to be relied upon in late game situations.
As a result, the Thunder have had the better bench for two straight games, particularly on the perimeter. In the next two games, it could be the deciding factor.
Sharpshooter Daequan Cook, acquired from Miami last summer, has become Oklahoma City's very own James Jones; he’s a knockdown three-point shooter who really helps spread the floor for Westbrook and Durant's isolation opportunities. His four 3s in Game 5 and 18 points was a much needed lift.
As good as Mike Conley, Jr. has been, I wonder if the size and power of Russell Westbrook has gotten to him. Conley was just 4-for-16 from the field in Game 5 and didn’t have the typical burst or explosion he has displayed throughout the playoffs.
I still expect this series to go to seven, but with the second rotation advantage and ruckus home court in Oklahoma City, the Thunder will advance to the Western Conference Finals.