NBA Playoffs 2014: Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder: Game Five Preview

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The Grizzlies stepped hard on Westbrook and Durant in Game 4, but Reggie Jackson scurried out from under their boot. With a few more tweaks, they have a good chance at winning this best-of-three.

2013/2014 NBA Playoffs
at
Series tied 2-2
April 29th, 2014
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
8:00 PM CDT
Fox SportsSouth/ 92.9 FM ESPN/ NBATV
Probable Starters
Mike Conley PG Russell Westbrook
Courtney Lee SG Thabo Sefolosha
Tayshaun Prince SF Kevin Durant
Zach Randolph PF Serge Ibaka
Marc Gasol C Kendrick Perkins

Injury Report:

Oklahoma City Thunder: N/A

Memphis Grizzlies: Quincy Pondexter (out, foot)

Preview

Game 4 was a good example of when the "anyone but him" defensive strategy, usually your best option against a star centric team like OKC, can backfire. The Grizzlies squeezed so hard on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (30 points combined) that Reggie Jackson (37 points) slipped through their fingers. As hard a loss as it was to take, the Grizzlies probably still have the upper hand in terms of scheming: they're holding the Thunder to fewer and fewer points each game, wringing the ball out of Durant and Westbrook's hands, and generally matching up well with both big and small lineups.

But playoff series are about adjustments, and the Grizz have to make a few more if they want to regain the advantage:

Limit Offensive Rebounds

This has been a problem since game one. Reggie Jackson and Russell Westbrook especially are volume shooters, and they know sooner than their defenders when their shots aren't going in. So they dart past Memphis' guards as the ball is in the air and steal long rebounds to keep possessions alive. Worse, Kevin Durant smartly stays in the perimeter in these situations, setting himself up for a second-chance three.

In Game 3, Jackson and Westbrook combined for 8 offensive rebounds (18 total). There is a correlation in this series - when Memphis' guards get more defensive rebounds, the Grizzlies win. When OKC's guards get more offensive rebounds, the Thunder win. It's not the only difference in the series, but it's a small hole that when plugged can help secure the dam.

#don'tfeed50

At least not too often. Let's review Zach's offensive stats this series:

  • Game 1: 7-21, 1 turnover
  • Game 2: 10-20, 2 turnovers
  • Game 3: 5-20, 3 turnovers
  • Game 4: 5-14, 2 turnovers (-14 point differential)

That's 27-75 (36%), for those counting at home. Zach isolations are the Grizzlies go-to "slow down" move in the fourth quarter, because when Z-bo can face up Kendrick Perkins for 5 seconds and then hit a fadeaway, it's a great use of the shot clock when you're ahead. But he hasn't been hitting those, and the Thunder are able to play him perfectly as a result: when Z-Bo abandons his fadeaway, he opts to drive through the lane at his defender, at which point the Thunder bring the double-team and suffocate his shot or force a turnover. Ibaka has visibly rattled Z-Bo at points in this series, blocking even his hook shots and forcing him to double-clutch and lose his rhythm. Zach still has value in this series - always throw it to him when he has posted up inside the restricted area - but it does not come at the spearhead of the offense. (See this piece by Kevin for more detailed analyses.)

Free throws, I guess

There's really nothing to say about this from a strategic standpoint. Just make your free throws. But when we talk about this series, blaming missed free throws as the cause of defeat is a simplistic analysis.

I'm not saying free throws aren't crucial, especially down the stretch, but the fact has been that the Grizzlies have recovered from double-digit deficits in this series without the benefits of, say, 10 free points. Points earned from the free-throw line in the middle of a game aren't tacked on to the final score like an arcade bonus - they add up slowly, subtly affecting the minute-by-minute point differential and, thus, a coach's lineup strategy, a player's shot selection, and other minutiae. Made free throws make life easier, but unless we're talking about the final minute of a game, they can be overcome in pursuit of victory.

Anyway, I don't want to sound like I'm encouraging missed free throws, so let's just say: Make all of 'em.

Prediction

The Grizzlies will have (hopefully) two chances to beat the Thunder at home, and this is probably the better one. Plus, it feels like the Grizzlies have the momentum edge, since Westbrook and Durant's impact on the series is shrinking with every game. I think Memphis takes it, but please, please, can we settle it in regulation?

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