With Zach Randolph suspended and Mike Conley playing through injury for the Grizzlies, the Thunder were heavy favorites going in to game seven of what has been an amazing first round series. They did not disappoint. On the shoulders of reported MVP Kevin Durant and his 33 points, as well as Russell Westbrook, who notched his second triple-double of the series, Oklahoma City rolled over the Memphis Grizzlies Saturday night on their way to a 120-109 victory, earning a spot in the Western Conference semi-finals.
After one quarter Thunder fans had to be a bit worried. OKC came out firing to start the game jumping out to an early lead; but as the game settled down the Memphis offense was clicking on all cylinders. Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger was forced to change up his style with Randolph out, moving Courtney Lee in to the starting lineup and playing the four around one offense that has become so popular in recent years. The one in that equation proved to be the key for Memphis early on. Marc Gasol took the challenge of playing without his front court mate and made the most of it. In the first quarter alone, the Spanish center was 6-8 from the field with 13 points while tallying 3 assists and 3 steals. Not only was he effective statistically, but he was able to get Thunder center Kendrick Perkins in early foul trouble. As for the Thunder, shots were falling early as they posted a 55.6 shooting percentage in the quarter. Protecting the ball however, was another story. Durant and Westbrook combined for 7 turnovers which lead to 11 fast break points for Memphis and a 36-27 Grizzlies lead after one.
Luckily for OKC, they got that out of their system early. After slowly chipping away at the deficit in the second quarter, the Thunder finally seized control and never looked back. They were led through the quarter by the trio of Westbrook, Durant, and Reggie Jackson, who combined to score 26 of the team’s 34 points in the period. Westbrook also dished out 4 assists on his way to a playoff career high 16 on the game. With only 3.7 seconds remaining, Durant hit a key three pointer that would give the Thunder a 61-58 lead at the midway point and set the tone for what would be a dominant second half.
After the break OKC came out swinging, looking to knock out the Grizzlies for good. They shot 76.5% in the third quarter (4-4 for Durant), extending their lead to 13 heading in to the fourth.
Although the final score showed that Memphis lost by 11, it was never really that close. The Thunder continued their second half dominance in the fourth quarter, leading by 22 at one point. OKC was able to sit their stars down with three minutes remaining, giving players like Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones a chance to get some garbage time minutes.
The absence of Zach Randolph proved to be the downfall of the Grizzlies. They were able to score only 13 second chance points, with 8 of those coming in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach. In the three Memphis wins this series, the Thunder’s inability to secure defensive rebounds late was a major factor, and that is something that Randolph surely would have helped with. Beyond that, the change of style that helped Memphis jump out to an early lead, didn’t last. They have put so much effort in to establishing an identity over the last few years, and they were unable to maintain that identity with such a key player out of the lineup.
The Thunder will begin their Western Conference semi-finals series against the Clippers on Monday after LA took care of the Warriors late Saturday night. Check back at Thunderous Intentions for a preview of that series in the next couple days.