In a round-about way, we are where we were a little over a week ago.
Saturday, April 19th, the Grizzlies began their series with the Thunder. Between then and now there have been 3 overtime games, a 2-2 series tie and only 8 points overall separate Oklahoma City and Memphis (392 to 384.) The two teams are playing about as close to a draw as you can, and now the series is a best of three starting Tuesday night in OKC.
5 of GBB's finest decided to come together and continue the roundtable tradition as we look back on the series that has happened so far and look ahead to the next 2 (or 3) games. These contests will decide who advances to the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs, and who books vacations and rounds of golf after this week.
1. Four games in to this series and it's tied up at 2 games a piece, what worries you the most about the Grizzlies' ability to advance to the next round?
Andrew Ford (@AndrewFord22)- The paltry, inconsistent offense. The Grizzlies are scrambling to figure out what their identity should be on offense after the #Feed50 strategy has turned into a major tactical blunder. Rather than using the elbow as the pivot point, the ball is sticking in Randolph’s hands in the post, and the ball reversal is nonexistent if he happens to kick it back out. Kendrick Perkins, yes the same guy that was eviscerated by the Grizzlies in last season’s playoffs, has been eating Zach Randolph alive on the low block. Everyone else is, too. Yikes.
Matt Hrdlicka (@theRealHrdlicka)- The Grizzlies' commitment to giving ZBo the ball in the post, something that works against the Thunder sporadically at best.
Keith Edwards (@realkeithtweets)- The offense, by far. The Grizzlies have basically the same three offensive plays as they've had the last few years. Iso Zach, Marc and Mike pick and roll, and the always popular broken play gone right. Those deficiencies are easy to hide on a game to game basis when you are facing teams who haven't had time to watch much game tape, but in a 7 game series, against a team you face with great regularity, with really long, athletic guys guarding every position, that puts you in a tough spot. Memphis needs to do a better job of being creative on offense, moving the ball around, and for GOD SAKE MAKE YOUR FREE THROWS!
Words from GBB on the late Michael Heisley
On loyalty, Memphis and respect for the late Michael Heisley
Joe Mullinax (@JoeMullinax)- The reliance on Zach Randolph in late game situations and insistence on running the offense through him. Z-Bo isos are beginning to be more similar to Rudy Gay isos than most fans would like to admit, and that is playing right in to the Thunder's hands. OKC has the bigs to stop Zach, whether it be Kendrick Perkins' size, Nick Collison's aggression and technique or Steven Adams' ability to simulate a mountain side. Randolph is shooting 10% worse from the field this series than he did all season, and 11% worse from the free throw line.
The worst of it all? Zach is shooting on average almost 3 more shots a game. He is killing ball movement, taking ill-advised shots and aside from the 2nd half and overtime of Game 2 he has been a detriment more often than not. If this were Rudy Gay, fans would be trying to set something on fire. Zach gets a pass. He shouldn't. To his credit, he was cheering on his teammates as the OKC lead was eliminated in game 4 without him. Hopefully less Zach will be more for the Grizzlies at times when Z-Bo just doesn't have it.
Chris Faulkner (@FaulknerMemphis)- I know that Durant might be getting tired, but I worry about how much our Bears have left in them after 3 consecutive OT games.
2. What has made you feel most optimistic about Memphis possibly advancing to round 2?
Andrew Ford (@AndrewFord22)- It has to be the way they have defended Kevin Durant. Heading into the series, a major question mark for the Grizzlies was who would guard possibly the best player on the planet and be able to do it consistently. That question was answered in a huge way by Tony Allen. Durant probably had the worst shooting performance of his life in the first four games, shooting just making just 40/101 shots so far and possessing a TS% of 49.3%. To give you an idea how bad that is for Durant, his TS% in the regular season was 63.5%. That’s quite a difference. I’m still not sure that the Grizzlies can count on him being that bad for the rest of this series, but the history certainly breeds optimism.
Matt Hrdlicka (@theRealHrdlicka)- The Thunder have no plan to make Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook more efficient. They barely rub on a pick and roll. Getting Durant in the post only makes it easier to double him. In fact, the more structure Brooks seems to impose on Durant, the less efficient he becomes.
Keith Edwards (@realkeithtweets)- Defense. In game 4 they held the Thunder to 80 points in regulation. Nine times out of ten, they win that game. Memphis has done a phenomenal job limiting the Thunder in transition and disrupting the rhythms of their heavy scorers since Game 2. Despite what Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook would have you believe, the defense of the Grizzlies is doing a really, really good job.
Joe Mullinax (@JoeMullinax)- The activity level of Mike Conley. Yes, his shooting percentages are down (42.6% in the playoffs, 45% during the season), but not as drastically as Zach Randolph's. On the other hand, his rebounding (2.9 to 5.3) and assist numbers (6.0 to 9.0) have gone up a good bit, and he has had 3 double digit assist games in the series. He certainly is not playing at full throttle as his offensive efficiency is 7.3 points worse than it was during the season, but his gains elsewhere are promising, and the shots will eventually fall.
Chris Faulkner (@FaulknerMemphis)- Well, like I responded to number 1, OKC's supply of Durantoleum could be dwindling, but my biggest encouragement is the fact that the Thunder seem to not actually possess offensive plays anymore. I'm not sure they ever did as I've found myself saying this for 4 years in a row now. Westbrook can get lucky only so many times right?
3. Which players have been the biggest surprises and disappointments of the series so far for Memphis?
Andrew Ford (@AndrewFord22)- The biggest surprise is Beno Udrih by a long shot. The Slovenian has stepped in and filled the role of the suspended Nick Calathes flawlessly. He’s provided a massive boost to a lackluster offense, and he has played passable defense. As a matter of fact, I don’t think Calathes would be playing better than Udrih if he was available. The biggest disappointment is Zach Randolph. He can’t figure out anything on offense, and rather than attempt to mutate his game to better fit the offense, he just continues to force the issue on the low block.
Matt Hrdlicka (@theRealHrdlicka)- Biggest surprise: Beno. There's no other answer. Biggest disappointment: Marc Gasol, who has played 2 below average games.
Keith Edwards (@realkeithtweets)- I'm not surprised one bit by Beno Udrih. I saw this coming, he said lying through his teeth. Of course Draino is the biggest surprise of the series and he's been incredibly fun to watch. The biggest disappointment has to be Zach Randolph. Courntey Lee is close, but Zach Randolph, author of We Don't Bluff, has been bluffing from the get go, and his inability to score on Ibaka, Perkins, Collison, and Adams has been a huge blow to the Grizzlies offense. The great thing about Zach is, he can flip the switch as quickly as he can lose his headband. So...go ahead switch flipper, flip them switches.
Joe Mullinax (@JoeMullinax)- The biggest surprise, as everyone has stated here for a variety of reasons is Beno Udrih. Biggest disappointment for me is Courtney Lee, who was brought in to be the X-Factor who can defend as well as score the ball from the perimeter. He has been inconsistent at best on both ends; some games he defends well and can score, others he gets torched or goes cold scoring. Z-Bo's issues were predicted by some, including myself. Lee's, not so much.
Chris Faulkner (@FaulknerMemphis)- It's hard not to currently be disappointed with Mike Miller; they might be flying through the air but their not finding net, referring to his shots. Beno was a huge surprise in the first 3 contests, but I feel as though we've seen the zenith of that wave. I'm looking for a Courtney Lee to come in and give us a nice 20 point game here soon.
4. Grade Coach Joerger's performance through 4 games. What is he doing well, and where can he improve?
Andrew Ford (@AndrewFord)- Joerger has out-coached Thunder coach Scott Brooks at every turn, and for that he deserves an A. He’s a rookie head coach that has made mostly excellent decisions thus far. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are completely discombobulated because of what Joerger has thrown at the two defensively, causing probably their worst four games as a pair in their careers. While Joerger still makes questionable lineup decisions (see inserting James Johnson at all in this series), he should be lauded for countering the Thunder’s small ball lineup masterfully.
His biggest weakness through four games has been the offense. He still seems befuddled about how to beat the stout Thunder defense, and Randolph continuing to be force-fed in the post reflects the truth in that statement. Gasol is averaging 14 elbow touches a game in the series so far. That number, although almost on pace with how many elbow touches Gasol got per game in the regular season, is not enough. The Grizzlies advantage against the Thunder defense lies in smart kick outs, excellent ball movement and sharp ball reversal. We aren’t seeing near enough of that right now.
Matt Hrdlicka (@theRealHrdlicka)- Judged on the Scotty Brooks curve, he's been an A. He's pushed advantages, riding lineups that have it going. He turned a relative weakness - matching up when OKC goes small - into a periodic strength (which has already won a game). The Grizzlies know exactly where to force Durant/Westbrook (and where to force them away from).
Still, it takes far too long to move away from Randolph ISO post ups. The ball doesn't find Gasol in the high post often enough, and leaving Randolph on the court - TWICE - down three with under 20 seconds left, makes no sense, regardless of how great a screener he is.
Keith Edwards (@realkeithtweets)- C+. I feel like that's the cop-out answer, but I don't feel like he's been really terrible, outside of some incredible miscues (ZBo in when we NEED a 3, James Johnson getting minutes on much smaller guards when he hasn't played meaningful minutes in a month, in ability to draw up plays) in game 4, and I don't feel like he's directly helped to win any games, other than riding the unit that had the run to get the Grizzlies back in the game and leaving ZBo on the bench to do it. (Ballsy.) I will say this, he's done a better job than Scott Brooks, for whatever that's worth. If I really have to grade him, it's probably a B- or so, because some of my initial concerns, matching up with OKC small ball to be specific, have already been alleviated.
Joe Mullinax (@JoeMullinax)- For me it's a B+. He has been tremendous having a hand in Westbrook and Durant playing so poorly offensively, and aside from Game 4's random James Johnson appearance and having Zach in when the Grizzlies' needed a 3 I think rotations have been sound. He has also called timeouts at opportune times and managed end-of-game situations well for the most part.
My biggest concern with Joerger is while he shows flashes of being willing to sit Zach when the team benefits from it, especially in this series, he doesn't do it enough. Between last season, the regular season this year and this series, we have enough of a sample size to know this just isn't Zach's series against this team. Play him, start him, but use what works against the Thunder, small ball and athletic bigs like Kosta Koufos and Ed Davis.
Chris Faulkner (@FaulknerMemphis)- I have no real problem with anything Joergz is doing; I'd give him a B+ right now. I would, however, like to see him give Beno a little more direction other than "spin, spin, shoot" or "spin, spin, questionable pass."
5. I won't ask you to predict, but on a scale from 1-10, 1 being "no chance", 10 being "I guarantee it", how confident are you that the Grizzlies will win this series?
Andrew Ford (@AndrewFord22)- Ehhhh 4. I give the Thunder a tiny edge only because if this series goes 7, they would get to play two of the final three games in their building. Other than that, pull a team out of a hat.
Matt Hrdlicka (@theRealHrdlicka)- 5. Toss it up.
Keith Edwards (@realkeithtweets)- Its a firm 5. The Grizzlies definitely blew their best chance at winning the series by not closing out in Game 4, but I don't feel like that they're doomed to lose the series now by any means. If they can survive what is sure to be a nightmare of a first quarter in Game 5, they'll be in good shape. This series is officially in the Tyson Zone for me. Any scenario you tell me about how it might end, I'd believe it. "Russell Westbrook got into a fist-fight with a fan in Memphis after the Grizzlies closed out at home." "The Thunder scored nine points in the final 37 seconds to win Game 7." "After having all of their players foul out in a 5OT thriller, the Thunder and Grizzlies, too tired to finish the series themselves, left it up to a battle between Justin Beiber and Austin Mahone in a Douche-Off." Literally, I believe all of those things.
Joe Mullinax (@JoeMullinax)- I am going 6. I predicted originally Grizzlies in 6, therefore they must win these next 2 in a row in order to achieve that goal. I am confident that this team has the better coach, better philosophy and is more mentally tough. Like the Clippers series last season, Memphis will win another grinder in OKC Tuesday night and come home with a chance Thursday to clinch it at home in a game that will likely have all the intensity of last season's game 6.
Chris Faulkner (@FaulknerMemphis)- 8.1526947, scientifically speaking. That number could drastically change within the first 5 minutes of tomorrow's game. (Ever the foolish optimist I am)