If you've watched the Grizzlies all season you know they are strong in two particular areas: post play and forcing turnovers. Those also in the know are aware that the Grizzlies have struggled this season winning key games on the road. After all, aside from the a playoff win over the Manu Ginobili-less San Antonio Spurs, Memphis relied heavily on home cooking in order to move past the Spurs. Sunday afternoon, though, a perfect storm came through Oklahoma City.
With the Grizzlies victory over the Thunder in Game 1 the story-line is simple: We got the one game we needed. Just 24 hours after toppling the Spurs in the first round, we here at SoV wrote that the Grizzlies are going to have to somehow find a way to win a game in Oklahoma City. The Thunder were 30-11 at home during the regular season, while Memphis won just 16 road games prior to their Game 1 win over the Spurs in the first round. Win on the road in either games 1 or 2 and this dream season could actually continue. Well, we got the first one...
I can't say enough about the play of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol against a longer and larger Thunder frontline than we're used to. With Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed both generally new to us, the early concerns were whether or not the Grizzlies would continue to dominate the post. Does scoring 52 points in the paint count as a dominant performance?
Randolph was, for a lack of better words, a force in Game 1. He scored 34 points on 12-of-21 shooting, with both Randolph and Gasol hitting enough long jumpers to keep the defense honest. The step-outs by OKC allowed for Mike Conley and Tony Allen to see open cuts to the basket. With the Grizzlies among the league's worst in mid-range jumpers (24th, 38.4% shooting from 16-23 feet) and eFG% (27th, 50.1 eFG%), per HoopData, the fact that Z-Bo and Gasol added to the Grizz hitting mid-range jumpers helped open up the baseline and the cutting lanes in the paint. A success!
While the Grizz also had great success in taking care of the ball (21:7, AST:TO), they also showed great strength in forcing turnovers. Making the Thunder cough up the ball 18 times, including 7 turnovers by Russell Westbrook alone, helped get the Grizzlies out in transition for easy buckets. As I said yesterday, the key is forcing the Thunder's hands, but using ours.
Also pushing Westbrook to take jumpers was HUGE. Another key in our predictions series, if Westbrook were to give Mike Conley the Tony Parker back down this game could have gotten out of hand early, and not in our favor. Not a single Grizzlies fan thought Conely would be able to lock down Westbrook, What they hoped for was for Conley to goad him into taking jumpers. Time and again on Sunday he was giving Westbrook some distance 13-15 feet from the basket and almost daring him to take the jumper. And it worked! Each time Westbrook backed Conley down into the paint, it was almost a given that he'd score. Great job by Conley in adjusting.
Here we are up 1-0. The series is so far from over it's almost laughable. But, we Grizzlies fans will admit that all we wanted was to come home 1-1. At the very least that has been guaranteed. If we take care of business at home, we're in the Western Conference Finals. It's as simple as that -- yet it's going to be a HUGE battle. Don't expect a road blowout in Game 2.
Until then, Grizzlies fans, enjoy the ride!