(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
We all know the ones. The playoff cliches that, year after tiresome year, are thrown around during a given series' rest days. Most of the time, they're just talking points used to keep the conversation going between games. It's often a general waste of time to try and find any actual meaning behind a statement like "The refs totally handed them the game, Bro!" or whatever your personal favorite is. These should be taken for what they are: Excuses to talk about the NBA playoffs. This means that, however annoying, they usually come from a good place at the least, and of course, the playoffs themselves are excuse enough to yap.
Which brings us to Game Two between the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder earlier this week and a cliche that I believe was pretty much played out in real-time to a T. You see, that wasn't just the classic Desperation (or Must-Win, if you choose) Game that materialized after the fact. It didn't just become that important simply because the Thunder took care of business at home. No, that game was a must-win because Oklahoma City treated it as such from the get-go -- from Kendrick Perkins' shoulder into Tony Allen at the opening tip and onward, really -- and they earned the win.
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Whatever characteristics a team is thought to have, be it veteran, young, inexperienced, athletic, gritty, etc., no team can avoid the Desperation Game when down 1-0 and playing at home (except, maybe, the Lakers). This is especially true when a team is young and emotional and plays in front of a sea of blue-shirted fans who collectively can raise the intensity of any situation with sheer volume.
The Thunder knew they had to have that one, and they got it. Sure, the Grizzlies really didn't help themselves a whole lot with turnovers and a few too many outside jumpers, but they were still surviving, still hanging around in the fourth quarter before finally succumbing to a final OKC run. Memphis was outplayed, no doubt, but not by some incredible margin. Fact is, these teams are very close to one another, a big reason many think this will be a long, relentlessly entertaining playoff series. Sometimes, all the difference a team needs in the must-win scenario.
And technically, difficult basketball-y things happened too. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph just couldn't get anything going thanks to a much livelier and aggressive defensive effort from the Thunder bigs as a whole. Will that happen again? Maybe, but Randolph and Gasol could just as easily re-discover their rhythm back home as well. Mike Conley scored a lot but didn't quite have the overall floor game going, and, as will happen, the OKC bench outplayed the Grizzlies' reserves in large part to James Harden absolutely going off. Does he have another game like that in him? Probably, but with these next two games in Memphis, you can be sure someone from that Grizz bench will show up, too.
Basically, the fact of the matter is that we've had our first Desperation Game of the series; the Thunder needed and got it. With both teams playing at the level they're on, that's a huge separating factor. Game Three starts us over again, in Memphis this time. This should be an advantage for the Grizz, who have thrived so far at home in the playoffs, but what Game Three will bring on Saturday is anyone's guess. This may sound like a cliche, but really, I'm just excited to watch these two teams go back at it. The beauty of Game Three is that whatever happens, we'll have to think about it a little more.
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