One of the strengths of Grizzly Bear Blues is our talented staff. We are lucky to have passionate and knowledgeable folks who do a variety of great work for the site. As the playoffs approach, we at GBB are taking an "all hands on deck" approach, churning out great content for you to enjoy all through this postseason.
With that in mind, utilizing the depth of the staff, we have set up a roundtable discussion preview of the series with Oklahoma City. Andrew Ford, Andrew Millen, Matt Hrdlicka, Kevin Yeung, Adam Rubrum, Joe Witherwax, Chris Faulkner, Keith Edwards, Andrew Livingston and myself all take a look at various aspects of the match-up with Kevin Durant and the Thunder. Half of us took questions 1 and 3, the other half has questions 2 and 4. The final question was open for all to answer, if willing.
1. The Oklahoma City Thunder feature two superstars, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, who account for over half of OKC's scoring. How does the Grizzlies' team defense slow them down?
Andrew Ford- If the Grizzlies are going to slow down Durant and Westbrook, they will have to communicate on high pick & rolls and work on different methods of defending them i.e. ICE, hedge, trap, etc. No one way will work every time, and there is no blueprint to defend the tandem. Additionally, the Grizzlies must bump Westbrook in transition, attempting to throw him off and slow him down. As for Durant, run him ragged. Don't let him the catch the ball in favorable positions. Make him come to the ball and run him off the three-point line.
Andrew Millen- Utilize our individual defensive pieces: Tayshaun has the longest arms; he can cover Kevin Durant. Tony is a ball-sniffer; he can chase Russell Westbrook. And don’t leave Zach Randolph out to dry on high pick-and-rolls. Gasol seems like a better option to help Conley guard along the perimeter, but he and Z-Bo would have to be alert on their switches. Luckily, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins are easier to recover against than OKC’s guards.
Adam Rubrum- In order for the Grizzlies to slow down a high powered offense like the Thunder, I think they will have to establish a scheme similar to the series last year. By removing the role players, they were able to physically wear down Durant to the point that he was out of gas by the end of the series. Additionally, they must also force him (and now Westbrook) to work for every shot and try to keep them off the line. One or both may still get 30+ points, but by game 5 or 6, the worn out Thunder superstars will need help. If they can make this series come down to who has the better role-players/bench, the Grizzlies should have the edge.
Chris Faulkner- I'm going to take an alternative approach to answering this one. The Grizzlies have honestly never done much to slow those two down when they're both playing together; they get their stats. Memphis has got the defensive power to frustrate them and make their jobs harder, but my bet would be on shutting down all their other peripheral scoring and make Durant and Westbrook score 40+ pts a piece to beat you. When Memphis keeps the score low against OKC they usually win so pound it inside, slow it all down and give OKC as few possessions as possible.
Joe Mullinax- Getting them outside of their comfort zone. Force Westbrook to be a strictly perimeter scorer and do not allow him to get to the rim; Westbrook is a 32% three point shooter, so go under every pick and double off of Thabo Sefolosha or Kendrick Perkins when Westbrook attempts to drive. As far as Durant is concerned, multiple defenders in one on one situations should be utilized; Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince, James Johnson and even Ed Davis at times can all bring different looks to the table and throw Durant off rhythm.
2. When the Grizzlies are on offense, which of the "Three Grizzly Kings" (Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph) do you think will have to lead the way in order for Memphis to keep pace with OKC?
Kevin Yeung- I'm going to say Mike Conley. Zach Randolph has had troubles against the Thunder's bigs all season long (editor note- which Kevin did a great job breaking down here) while Marc Gasol is rarely ever our leading star by nature. Conley's done a great job in that role this season, and there's no reason that needs to change. Russell Westbrook is a plus defender when all is said, but he can be a bit of a wild-card from possession to possession on that end and pressuring him makes as much sense as targeting any other specific player. Also, I love the idea of a Conley-Westbrook battle.
Keith Edwards- Marc Gasol. We know how Zach Randolph is going to operate, and we know what Mike Conley's strengths are, but if the Grizzlies are going to win this series, they will need All-Star level scoring from their big, Spanish center, in addition to his elite defensive ability.
Matt Hrdlicka (aka TheRealHrdlicka)- Gasol, or Zach if Ibaka is not guarding him. Conley will have a tough series being guarded by Westbrook, a player that can overwhelm him physically. I do think Westbrook has at least one game where he gets himself into foul trouble.
Joe Witherwax (aka BluesCityJoe)- Marc Gasol. I want to say Z-Bo here, because the big guy has carried this team so many times this season, but OKC is a terrible match-up for him with Ibaka, Collison and potentially Adams guarding. Conley struggled this year against them, shooting the same 37% as Z-Bo. The real answer is that we need all three, but Marc shot 54% this year versus the Zombie Sonics (Bill Simmons throwback!) and is the one guy I don't think the Thunder have a clear answer for. Gasol has been excellent in April, averaging 18 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists on 54% shooting. If he he can give them that kind of production - or perhaps just a bit more - as well as efficiency upticks from Z-Bo and Conley, the Grizzlies' chances get much better.
Andrew Livingston- Marc Gasol. Serge Ibaka has improved defensively and Durant can cheat and double up on Zbo because Tayshaun Prince and/or Tony Allen will not be an offensive threat. Kendrick Perkins is too wobbly for consistent defense and Hasheem Thabeet doesn't have the minutes to know how to match him. Zbo down in the post, kick back out to Gasol until the double coverage disintegrates or frees up another shooter.
3. Tayshaun Prince's playing time has been a hot button topic all season, but against the Thunder his length and defensive capability could prove valuable. Tayshaun will continue to start, but how many minutes on average should he see, and who should see the most minutes at the SF position?
Andrew Ford- Prince should see about 15-20 minutes a night. His length is his biggest asset at this point in his career without question, and the Grizzlies can put him on someone he can bother with his gangly arms on defense while also utilizing him on offense by posting him up against smaller defenders several times a game. Mike Miller should see about 20 minutes a night and no more, or the Grizzlies risk marginalizing his impact as well. Tony Allen should play the most at the SF position. He's naturally a shooting guard, but he will be tasked with shutting down Durant a great deal of the time, and he can pair well with Courtney Lee.
Andrew Millen- If Joerger’s pre-playoffs rotation sets are an indication, Prince will get at least 20-22 minutes a game. Johnson has been relegated to being a fire axe, kept in one of those "break glass in case of emergency" boxes. If it’s necessary, break out JJ, but I think Prince can hold his own for the majority of minutes. He is valuable defensively, and as long as Mike Miller or Courtney Lee is out there with him, he won’t have too much offensive responsibility.
Can Durant finally lead the Thunder to a title?
•SBNation.comOklahoma City has been on the cusp of a championship the last three years, but the exploits of Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James foiled them in 2011 and 2012 and an injury to Russell Westbrook dashed hopes last season. Can they finally get over the top?
Adam Rubrum- While he will get his normal 20 minutes per game, I think Prince's minutes should be determined by the situation. If we jump up to a big lead, then I would feel more comfortable with him in the game working on wearing Durant down. If we are down in the game, Johnson would be a better option, since he also provides offense. Miller should and will get major playing time to help stretch the floor for the bigs, but I think you can only have him in the game with Allen or Johnson guarding Durant. If it was up to me, I would have Johnson play the most. However, I'm not the coach, so it will be the normal situation with Prince getting the start, and Miller closing out the game. Both players should get close to the same minutes. I'll be shocked if JJ gets no playing time in this series, but it is always a possibility with Joerger.
Chris Faulkner- I'd like to see Tay start the first and second halves to match up with Durant with the starting group, but I think the task of guarding him should be split up amongst him, TA and JJ. I'd try to keep Prince around or under 20 minutes, give Mike Miller a healthy portion to keep the floor spread, 20+ minutes and use James Johnson for specific in-game scenarios with playing time ranging from 5 to 15 minutes. I know Johnson is really fun to watch and can create plays, but his outside shooting is absolutely horrible - just look at his shot charts. Considering he's been on a small-dose regimen for most of the season, I don't think it'd be wise to drastically alter what's been recently winning games for the Grizzlies.
Joe Mullinax- I tend to agree with Chris on this. Tayshaun should absolutely start games and halves, as those are the times where he is most effective. His length and experience will be valuable when it comes to defending Durant, but he most certainly cannot do it for long spurts. Maximize his play by getting five minutes or so out of him at a time, and play him down the stretch for defensive purposes only if necessary. The Conley/Lee/Miller/Z-Bo/Gasol lineup should close out most games moving forward, with TA replacing Lee or Miller for defensive purposes when necessary (which may be often).
4. Which Grizzlies' player not named Gasol, Conley or Randolph will be the X-Factor for Memphis in this series and why?
Kevin Yeung- Mike Miller. The Thunder sink, help and recover as heavily as any other team in the league, and almost by necessity, Miller has to be the three-point shooter that will make them pay for it. He's been amazing down the stretch this season while Courtney Lee hasn't, and the Grizzlies desperately count on the shooters they have. Miller has consistently crushed it in the playoffs for the Miami Heat in recent years, so hopefully we get that same benefit from him.
Keith Edwards- Quincy Pondexter. I think not having him healthy is a HUGE blow to the Grizzlies this series, bigger than they've had to deal with all season. I'm not saying it will be fatal, but it will definitely be a big blow. The person on the team that will need to be the x-factor is Courtney Lee. The Grizzlies acquired him to spread the floor for their starting unit, and over the last month and a half, he hasn't done a very good job of that. If Memphis is to win this series, they have to have him shooting the 3 at a high percentage. Mike Miller can't be the only one knocking them down, or at least the only one threatening too.
Matt Hrdlicka (aka TheRealHrdlicka)- Tony Allen. He must defend Durant without fouling. Oh wait, Tony Allen can't play the 3. I forgot.
Joe Witherwax (aka BluesCityJoe)- Courtney Lee. When Lee got to the Grizzlies, he quickly made the fans forget their chagrin at losing Bayless (well, except for the ladies) with his shooting stroke and strength in so many little things - moving without the ball, weaving through picks without breaking stride on D, etc. His shooting numbers took a dip in February and March, and it seemed like every part of his game took a hit too - not moving as well without the ball, losing track of his man on D, etc.
However, in the last 10 games of the season, he averaged 10 PPG on 42% shooting from 3, and I've seen more of those instinctive plays. This is a good sign. If the Thunder collapse on Z-Bo and Marc, we're going to need people to make them pay. Mike Miller will do what Mike Miller does. If Courtney Lee is the Dread Pirate Dagger Courtney Lee, look out.
Andrew Livingston- I think it has to be Courtney Lee, though he has struggled mightily in many weeks, if the Grizz can get him back to his form right after he was traded, his skill set is too threatening especially if he's on the floor with Conley, Gasol and Zbo. If his three point shooting returns, he's an equal threat when he shares the floor with Mike Miller. He can pick up the offensive slack that Prince and Allen share.
5. Prediction time. Who will win this series in how many games and why?
Chris Faulkner- I think this goes through all 7 games with the Grizzlies winning handily in the final game after wearing down the Thunder with physical play for two weeks. There's the Westbrook factor, but these Grizzlies are more well-rounded than the team that beat the Thunder last season. Grizzlies in 7.
Andrew Ford- Thunder in 6. The Grizzlies are going to be a tough out, but the match-ups just don't favor the good guys. With Durant performing at an other-worldly level and Westbrook fully healthy, the Thunder are a train headed full steam ahead. Memphis won't be able to get enough stops to overcome what is likely to be a mediocre offensive output against a Thunder defense that is no slouch.
Andrew Millen- For the Grizz to win, I think they will need a 6 or 7 game series, but they can do it if they ride the momentum of their recent win streak and steal game one or two in OKC. I am a pessimist though, so…Thunder in 6.
Kevin Yeung- It's going to seven games, and it could go either way. I think the Thunder have a modest advantage. Thunder in 7.
Andrew Livingston- Thunder in 6. Durant and Westbrook are just too dangerous this season to be fully stopped in so many games. I think the Grizz might be the best contender for knocking them out, but I also think that the Thunder's ability to score in the face of defenders is too much.
Adam Rubrum- Grizzlies in 6. The Grizz have been in playoff win-or-go-home mode for over a week, and I fully believe they will steal at least one game at OKC while keeping their home game streak in tact.
Joe Witherwax (aka BluesCityJoe)- Grizzlies in 6. The Grizzlies have won 14 straight at home, and I think there's every reason to believe they can continue that in the playoffs. They'll need to steal 1 on the road, but either way, this should be a good series. Go Griz!
Joe Mullinax- Four votes Thunder, three votes Grizzlies. I have been torn the past couple of days on this prediction, but as I said on the latest episode of GBBLive, the past five games and the Round-Robin between the Suns and Mavericks has to have meant something to this playoff run. The Grizzlies are focused, they have been fighting their tails off and have the personnel necessary to throw the Thunder off their game. Anything outside of a sweep by either team wouldn't surprise me, but I think Memphis will move on. Grizzlies in 6.