In a pivotal game two, the Grizzlies came out focused and determined to do a job. That job: steal one of the first two games of the series in Oklahoma City. The Grizzlies got in and out with the precision and efficiency of a trained assassin. While the Grizzlies made it as swift and painless as possible for the Thunder, that is not likely to be any consolation for Kevin Durant who carried the Thunder with 36 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists. As a matter of fact, Durant physically displayed his dismay when he headed to the tunnel at the conclusion of the game shaking his head. He had to be thinking "I can't do much better than this."
The Grizzlies effort and strategy tonight should be applauded. They were determined to not allow another offensive explosion from Kevin Martin or anybody else not named Durant, and besides allowing a barrage of open three balls from Derek Fisher in the second quarter, they accomplished that goal.
The Grizzlies still did not look like their usual selves on offense. They had too many stagnant possessions that led to stupid Tayshaun Prince or Tony Allen isolations. All these isolations conjured up unwanted images of Rudy Gay and the "old" Grizzlies. However, the Grizzlies were somehow able to score 99 points, due in large part to Mike Conley's astronomically better performance than in Game 1.
In an on-court interview after the game, Conley said something to the affect of, and I'm paraphrasing here, "the team goes as I go", and tonight he was right. While he started off shaky again, he was a steadying presence on both ends of the court for most of the game. He had the quietest almost triple double I've ever seen. Conley did not even come close to putting up a triple double in the regular season, so that makes tonight's stat line all the more awe-inspiring. Conley finished with a line of 26 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists. His stat line in the big three categories might not even be the most impressive thing he did tonight. Conley played 42:13 and only turned the ball over twice. Keep in mind this is while being the primary ball handler for the majority of the time he spent on the court. That is outstanding.
It wasn't just Conley dominating on the offensive end though, as Gasol had a big performance as well. The big Spaniard finished with 24 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. It seems as though Gasol's confidence is through the roof. He sometimes is still not as aggressive as he should be, but he is much less deferent when presented with an open jumper from the elbow or free throw line extended. And why shouldn't he be more aggressive? Who is going to guard him on the Thunder? Kendrick Perkins? That's downright laughable. Gasol hurt the Thunder on two pick and pops tonight because Perkins is too slow and always late rotating back to his man after hedging to keep the ball handler from turning the corner. As a Grizzlies fan, nothing makes my face light up more than Perkins guarding Gasol when he plays the pick man in pick and roll situations. As I rewatched the game, I literally laughed out loud at these two possessions below.
In the first play, Gasol sets a screen for Prince on the right side of the floor at the free throw line extended or the wing, whichever you prefer. Prince decides not to use the pick and heads towards the corner. Perkins foolishly slides down towards the corner to keep Prince from turning the corner for an easy layup. This puts Perkins way out of position when Prince kicks the ball back to Gasol for an open jump shot. It's almost laughable at how late Perkins is to "contest" Gasol's jump shot.
In the clip below, Gasol sets a pick for Conley on the left side of the floor. However, the moral of the story is the same. Conley draws Perkins badly out of position, and Perkins is too late to get back to contest Gasol's jumper. In this case, Perkins jumps to contest Gasol's shot SECONDS after Gasol has released the ball. That's right, not milliseconds, a thousandth of a second, or even one second, but multiple seconds. Wow.
In typical Grizzlies fashion, the victory came without much offensive assistance from the bench. The bench provided just enough to squeak out a win. Although only two Thunder players, Martin and Fisher, scored off the bench, the Thunder bench still outscored the Grizzlies bench 25-18. Bayless and Pondexter must do better than 7 and 5 points respectively, especially Bayless since he is such a defensive liability. The best thing that came from the bench was Tony Wroten receiving meaningful playoff minutes. I couldn't believe my eyes when he came to the scorers table to check in. Hollins finally listened to Kevin's #FreeWroten cries on twitter. Wroten clocked 5:41, and while he is still a wild card on offense, he showed Grizzlies fans a glimpse of the future when he made arguably the best defensive play of the night in the first quarter. The play is shown in the clip below.
After a Grizzlies basket, Wroten decides to deploy the full court press on Fisher. Fisher takes the inbound pass, takes one dribble, and then Wroten picks his pocket and scores an easy bucket before the savvy thirty-eight year old veteran knew what hit him. It was an amazing play that showcased Wroten's defensive prowess, quickness, and athleticism. Hopefully, Wroten will see more playing time as the series unfolds.
While four of the Grizzlies starters continue to dominate game after game, one seems to be lagging behind and struggling to carry his own weight. Tayshaun Prince looks like he has completely forgotten how to put the ball through the hoop in this series, and at one point he shot the ball off the side of the backboard. Not only are all of his shots flat, but a good percentage of them right now are not even on target. Hopefully, with a three day break before Game 3, he will get in the gym and work out the kinks in his shot.
- Ibaka's length bothered Randolph on his first two shots of the game, but the ground bound big man overcame that for the most part with crafty pump fakes, good foot work, and straight up bullying him out of the way. Watch Z-Bo manhandle Ibaka underneath on the play below.
In case you didn't get enough of a testosterone rush after watching that clip, check out this Zach Randolph mixtape. Video courtesy of MrSportsRants
- Back to first quarter notes, Tony Allen can frustrate at times on defense. He refuses to stay home on Thabo Sefolosha, and it costs him occasionally. In the first quarter, he committed a stupid foul on a corner three from Sefolosha because he was too late scampering back to defend the shot. Allen also allowed him to hit a wide open three later in the first quarter because he was busy roaming.
- Randolph gets his arms tangled with opposing big men A LOT down low. Almost an abnormal amount.
- TA shot more than was appropriate tonight, and he needs to practice layups more than five year old kids playing in their first YMCA league game.
- TA and Prince took low percentage twos that Hollins was certainly not pleased with. The offense was not very fluid in the first quarter.
- Is Perkins good for anything?
- Reggie Jackson does not play like a player that only started receiving big minutes recently. He added 10 points for the Thunder tonight, and he made an impressive power move to attack Gasol in the paint on a fast break and force him out of the way for an easy lay in at one point.
- Fisher hit three deep balls and scored 13 of his 19 in this quarter. Yet, somehow the Grizzlies outscored the Thunder in this quarter to take a 54-51 lead into halftime.
- Kevin Durant took over in the third quarter, scoring 13 of his 36 points. This quarter is when it started to seem like Durant was going to take over the game and put the Grizzlies out of their misery again in the fourth quarter.
- Boneheaded foul by Arthur to end the quarter. Seriously, you had to try to block it? Just put a hand up!
- While the Grizzlies escaped, their were some questionable things happening late in the game. With 3:18 left in the game, somehow Bayless ended up matched up with Durant for a possession. Durant quickly capitalized by attacking Bayless, and it lead to an and 1. Also, with about 4:30 left in the game the Grizzlies decided it would be a good idea to feed Prince on the low block and have him post up Durant while everybody stands on the weak side of the court. Needless to say, a poor shot was generated.
- While several of the Grizzlies late game plays and moves can be bashed, not everybody and everything was bad late. Conley came up huge with under two minutes to go. Gasol executed a drive and kick to perfection, and Conley buried the three to give the Grizzlies a 92-90 lead with 1:58 to go.
I'm still a little baffled at how the Grizzlies pulled out the win, but they have done what they came to Oklahoma City for, which is steal home court advantage.
In the words of Marc Gasol after Game 5 in Los Angeles in Round 1, "let's get the f*$k out of here, Mike." We're out. Now it's back to the Grindhouse for Game 3 on Saturday night. Go Grizzlies!
All stats and game clips courtesy of the indispensable MySynergySports