We’ve seen one game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies.
The Thunder came away with the Game 1 victory, winning 93-91 thanks mostly to Kevin Durant’s go-ahead, pull-up jumper in transition with 11 seconds to go.
Durant dominated the game putting up 35 points, 15 rebounds and six assists on 13-for-26 shooting. More importantly, he scored 12 points in the final 7:20 in the game on 6-of-7 shooting.
The Thunder contained Memphis’ big men, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. The two combined for 38 points and 20 rebounds but the Thunder still held their own, especially when they needed to down the stretch.
It was just one game though and the Thunder are very happy to come away with the win, especially since it was at home. What is going to change tonight and in the games after in this series?
Ibaka and Martin
The Thunder got 25 points from Kevin Martin while Serge Ibaka shot 1-for-10 from the field. Expect those two things to balance out and the Thunder shouldn’t expect much more. Ibaka can definitely play better and knock down more shots but he’s not going to dominate the offensive glass like he did against Houston and it will be tough for him to have games where he scores 20-plus points.
Martin should see Tony Allen on him more in this series and Allen should do a better job shutting him down. Martin caught Allen sleeping on a few backdoor cuts in Game 1 that will be tough to come by the rest of the series. As shaky as Martin looks even when he’s got it going, Martin is still a veteran and confident in his abilities. I may be underestimating him.
The Grizzlies need someone else to step up on offense. OKC will live with Allen and Tayshaun Prince shooting from the perimeter. Mike Conley will be the key for the Grizzlies. If he can get into the lane and create, it will open up a lot of things for the Grizzlies’ offense. He was quiet in Game 1 and will look to be more aggressive going forward.
Playing away from OKC
Winning at home will be crucial for the Thunder. Memphis has underratedly one of the best home crowds and it will be tough to win a game away from the Peake. The Grizzlies have a homecourt advantage that can totally turn the momentum in a series.
The Thunder are able to go small against the Grizzlies and have a big advantage. This was not the case at all against Houston, who was better off playing small ball than OKC was.
When the Thunder went small in Game 1, Memphis matched up with them. If this continues to be the case, and I think it will, then the Thunder are looking good. Memphis needs to stick to their strength at all times with two bigs on the floor and playing physical.
The best time for the Thunder to go small is when Memphis is resting Z-Bo or Gasol. That’s when they did it in Game 1 and if the Grizzlies keep trying to match up with the Thunder here, OKC will continue to torch them with their small lineups.
Durant has to eventually start looking more like a human being right? How can he continue to put up these stat lines while being so efficient? Durant is due to have a really tough shooting night some time in this series. Not just because the percentages have to balance out eventually but because Memphis is a great defense.
In Game 1, even with how great Durant was, he could have been better. The looks he got were very easy and unless they get much tougher, the Thunder will be in great shape to win this series. KD missed about five shots in the game that are usually automatic for him.
Memphis needs to make some adjustments on defending Durant. I suspect it will be more double-teaming or possibly using Allen on him for stretches. Durant just had no issue with Prince trying to stick him.
What does this mean?
A lot of people are saying that the Thunder played a great game in Game 1 and Memphis could have been better and that Memphis still looks like they have the advantage in the series. I disagree to an extent. Both teams can play better and the Thunder’s continued improvement without Westbrook was again evident in Game 1 and there were a lot of good things to take away from the win. I don’t feel like the Thunder stole one and I don’t feel like the Thunder gave the Grizzlies their best punch.
Every game in this series will continue to be low-scoring and close. This style will bode well for the Thunder in the post-Westbrook world. They can play great defense without him, especially against the conventional lineups of Memphis.
Durant is still the best player in this series. I’m not always one to say this is the most important thing in the world but in this case, I think it is.