May 4, 2013, 6:30 PM EDT
Memphis: 56-26, fifth seed in the West
OKC: 60-22, one seed in the West
Memphis: Beat the Los Angeles Clippers 4-2
OKC: Beat the Houston Rockets 4-2
Grizzlies took two of the three meetings.
Russell Westbrook is out for the playoffs after undergoing surgery for a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee.
OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession) – PLAYOFFS ONLY
Memphis: Offense 109.7 (2nd in the postseason), Defense 104.9 (11th in the postseason)
OKC: Offense 109.2 (3rd in the postseason), Defense 101.9 (8th in the postseason)
THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES:
The Thunder’s ability to get consistent scoring from players not named Kevin Durant: With the loss of Russell Westbrook at this late stage of the season, OKC is forced to adjust on the fly without their most explosive player, and the one who led the team in field goal attempts over the course of the season. Replacing what Westbrook gave the Thunder will be a tall task against a solid Grizzlies team that’s more than capable of locking down defensively at times, so the likes of Kevin Martin and Reggie Jackson will need to provide reliable production from the guard spots for the Thunder to advance.
The continued brilliance of Mike Conley: The Grizzlies’ point guard has played as well as anyone in this postseason, and carved up the Clippers with averages of 17.3 points, 8.3 assists, and 3.5 rebounds per game that were all better than his regular season averages. Conley was especially great in the closeout Game 6, finishing with 23 points on seven shots, after getting to the free throw line for a whopping 17 attempts.
There’s a reason that the Grizzlies offense, which was below average during the regular season, came to life against the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs. Conley’s ability to have high assist, low turnover games has been key in his team’s surge on that end of the floor, and his ability to feed Zach Randolph in the post with perfectly-placed passes has helped his big man dominate for stretches inside.
Memphis is built on defense, certainly. But Conley is the key to bringing their offense to a respectable level that can actually make the Grizzlies a legitimate contender in the Western Conference.
Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins: These two didn’t have a great first round series against the Rockets, but the matchups are much more favorable in the second round against a Grizzlies team that relies heavily on its two bigs inside. Oklahoma City may be uniquely qualified to slow the Memphis frontcourt attack with both Ibaka and Perkins, as well as with Nick Collison off the bench.
The burden will be on Durant to carry the Thunder offensively in this series, and he’s more than capable of doing so. The problem is that Memphis has a strong wing defender in Tony Allen who can at least make Durant work for his points, and if the Grizzlies can force Durant into low shooting percentage games, while containing the rest of of the Thunder’s role players, it could be trouble for Oklahoma City.
The Grizzlies’ ability to play good team defense, along with their improved offense we’ve witnessed so far this postseason, should be enough to get them into the Conference finals.
Grizzlies in six.