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Tag:2011 second-round playoffs
Posted on: May 15, 2011 7:41 pm
Edited on: May 16, 2011 6:01 am
 

Series Grades: Thunder down Grizzlies in 7

Grading an epic series between the Thunder and Grizzlies.

Posted by Matt Moore



Here are grades for the grueling seven-game series between the Thunder and Grizzlies that brought us the hero James Harden, a grueling triple-overtime, and the continuing legends of Zach Randolph and Kevin Durant.


Oklahoma City Thunder


Kevin Durant: An up-and-down series for the scoring champ. When he was good, he was superb. When he was bad, his team was sunk. Durant had a few bad games in this series and that went a long way in driving the series to seven games despite the Thunder matchup advantages. He was superb in Game 7 though, as expected, working off-ball to get his game back on track after a rough start. Durant's ability to draw fouls went a long way in this series, as the Grizzlies could seemingly do nothing defensively without collecting fouls. Throw in his leadership and you have a good series, obviously, with the win, but also one that brought questions about his ability to create space and get the ball. If Russell Westbrook caught flak for being too aggressive, Durant quietly started establishing questions about not being enough so. But again, a win is a win and Durant was a huge part of it.


Grade: B+


Russell Westbrook:  Our own Royce Young will be happy to tell you about how Westbrook wasn't any different in this series than he ever has been, and that too much of the blame was put on Westbrook for his play. But the issue with Westbrook isn't that he's not getting the ball to Durant. That's on Durant. The problem is that too often Westbrook goes to his own playbook, his own aggressivness. He forces drives that end in charges, he elects for the jumper with slashers going to the rim, he lacks the patience to reset the offense. But all of those negative things don't change the fact that the biggest reason the Thunder won this series was Russell Westbrook and his undaunted assault on the rim. Westbrook knew the Grizzlies had no option to contain him on the perimeter, and attacked relentelessly. If that was sometimes to a fault, it shouldn't outweigh how good he was in finishing and piling up easy points at the rim. Westbrook closed with a triple-double on a bad shooting night, but amassing tons of rebounds on both sides of the floor and getting teammates involved. Did Westbrook cost the Thunder two games? Probably. But they wouldn't have won the four they did without him.

Grade: A-


James Harden: James Harden had the series of his life. He's been en fuego since the trade deadline, and stepped it up in this series. If the Thunder couldn't have won without Westbrook, Harden was a close second. Knocking down 3s, driving, collecting fouls, stealing the ball, and being a distributor, which is huge, especialy when Westbrook is in hero mode. The Grizzlies had no cover for Harden. When he started to insert himself in the series, that was when it changed. 

Grade: A+


Nick Collison: They kept talking about how he's Mr. Intangibles, but Collison's production was pretty tangible. Rebounds, blocks, and missed field goals for Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Collison did the job Ibaka could not, taking the Grizzlies' dominance inside away. Again, as the series progressed, he took over. The Grizzlies' biggest advantage was inside, and Collison negated it. Huge minutes from the former Jayhawk. If he can keep that up against Dirk... yeah, just kidding. But seriously, good series. 


Grade: A


Scott Brooks: Failed to get final possessions set up well. Failed to get Westbrook in line. Failed to create an offense with cohesion outside of "run fast at the rim and either score or get fouled." Failed to give Harden significant minutes over Thabo until the end. Got the win. Scott Brooks is an incredible developmental coach and defensive mind. But this series may have begun the question about whether he can be the guy, should the Thunder not win the title. But hey, win and no one will care.

Grade: C


Thunder Crowd: Phenomenal, as always. Many people questioned whether OKC's crowd would be any good when they moved from the vaunted Seattle fanbase. Instead, the Thunder crowd are showing the greatness of small market crowds who are rabid, early, and loud, every game, every minute. Standing ovation for their standing ovation.

Grade: A+


Memphis Grizzlies


Zach Randolph: Randolph had two huge games, Game 1 and Game 6, where he won the game nearly by himself. He was a monster in those games. In the others? He struggled. His inability to adjust to the officiating or create space, or find Marc Gasol when the double came hurt the Grizzlies. Randolph was the focal point of the defense and still produced, but you still walk away feeling like if he could have been a little more efficient, it would have been enough for Memphis to advance in the West. Shouldn't take away what has been an incredible postseason from him. 

Grade: B-


Mike Conley: Conley is in a rough spot with Memphis. He's relied upon to hit shots from the perimeter when no one else can, but not take too many shots. He needs to distribute, but if others aren't hitting, he has to score. He gets killed for being a defensive liability but has to guard the second best player on each team. Conley needed to be flawless for this series. He wasn't. He was average. Which isn't bad, it just wasn't enough for Memphis to overcome the mismatches.

Grade: C+


Marc Gasol: Where did the beast go? OKC was able to hammer Gasol time and time again and without getting the calls, Gasol couldn't respond. Perkins and Ibaka contributing on offense reflects badly, but more importantly the work done on the offensive glass really takes the wind out of what was his coming out party.

Grade: C


O.J. Mayo: Step on up trade partners! Mayo had a phenomenal playoff series, and was the biggest reason the Grizzlies forced this to seven games. He did fantastic work, and actually won the matchup with Harden until Game 4. If Mayo's still on the market, he's going to elicit some big offers this summer. A great comeback story for Memphis, and parallels the city and team's resilience.

Grade: A-


Lionel Hollins: Hollins had no advantages outside of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and that was slim. He faced an uphill battle these entire playoffs and took the 8th seed to a seventh game against a star studded young team after a grueling first round series against the best team in the West record-wise. He had the Grizzlies respond to a Game 5 beatdown to force Game 7 despite every reason to quit. Hollins made mistakes trusting Sam Young too much and not reigning in Tony Allen's offense. But he did a phenomenal job getting the team this far. 

Grade: A-


Game 4:
A triple-overtime thriller between two great small-market teams with young rosters, giving everything they got. We had ten great moments from it. There could have been 20 more. Arguably the best game of the playoffs. 

Grade: A+

Posted on: May 14, 2011 8:13 pm
Edited on: May 14, 2011 8:50 pm
 

Playoff Fix: Thunder, Grizzlies tangle in Game 7

The Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies face off in the first Game 7 of the 2010-2011 NBA Playoffs. Posted by Ben Golliver.

kevin-durant-mad

One Big Thing: More than any other series, the Thunder-Grizzlies one has been about giant swings in momentum, emotion and energy. After an exhausting triple overtime in Game 4, the Thunder ran the Grizzlies out of the building in Game 5. In Game 6, the Thunder collapsed after halftime, looking out-of-sync and lethargic as the Grizzlies put the hammer down. Game 7, then, is simply about who has more left in the tank. With home-court advantage and an edge in overall talent, that should be the Thunder. 

The X-Factor: Thunder forward Kevin Durant, the league's best and most consistent scorer, sure picked a bad night to have his worst performance of the season. His season-low 11 points in Game 6 was troubling because he appeared openly frustrated -- both by the aggressive Memphis defense he's been facing and with teammate Russell Westbrook's decision-making.

Durant was sensational in closing out the Denver Nuggets in the first round, and an approximation of that performance should be enough to send the Thunder through to the Western Conference finals. If he no-shows again, though, Oklahoma City will find itself in a situation where Westbrook feels like he has to carry the entire burden. That's never a good thing. There are no excuses in a Game 7. Coexisting with Westbrook, the harassing defense and fatigue must become non-factors. Durant is staring at a legacy-impacting game and he needs to step up. 

The Adjustment: Before Game 6, I noted that Memphis needed to get back to what it does best: force-feeding Zach Randolph. It was better for the Grizzlies to go down doing what they do well than to go down doing what they do poorly. The flip is now true for Oklahoma City. If they're going to get eliminated from these playoffs, they need to force someone (anyone!) besides Randolph to send them packing.

Oklahoma City must double Zach Randolph early and often. It doesn't have to occur on every touch but it needs to happen a lot more than it did in Game 6, when Randolph went off for 30 points and 13 rebounds in 40 minutes. Yes, Nick Collison and company have done an excellent job handling Randolph in this series and they've gone above and beyond in doing their best to neutralize him on the glass. But Memphis simply lacks the floor-spacers to make the Thunder pay for over-committing to Randolph. If nothing else, daring Mike Conley to shoot at every turn would be a significantly better strategy than letting Randolph work one-on-one. Conley has shot just 9-for-40 in the last three games combined, including just 3-12 from downtown. 

The Sticking Point: Westbrook has become a lightning rod for criticism in this series thanks to his shot-jacking (17.8 field goal attempts per game), his turnovers (3.7 per game) and the Thunder's stagnation during critical late-game stretches that has produced a lot of one-on-one play from Westbrook and a lot of standing around from Durant. In the big picture, that Westbrook has already accomplished so much so early in his career is remarkable.

But this is not the time for Westbrook's supporters to be preaching patience, lest an opportunity be lost. Despite their youth, Oklahoma City is just five wins away from the NBA Finals and, when they're clicking on offense, they have the potential to be a legit title contender right now. Game 7 should be a good window into whether Westbrook and company are happy with what they've accomplished or are motivated enough to make some adjustments (better ball movement late in games, better shot selection, a bit more care with the ball when things break down in the halfcourt) so that they can move on to the next step.
Posted on: May 14, 2011 2:03 am
Edited on: May 14, 2011 2:06 am
 

Kevin Durant goes ice cold in loss to Grizzlies

Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star forward Kevin Durant goes ice cold in a Game 6 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. Posted by Ben Golliver.

Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star forward Kevin Durant is the NBA's most prolific scorer and its most consistent. Nobody fills it up like Durant, who averaged 29.7 points on the season, and, we demonstrated earlier this season, nobody does it on a night in and night out basis quite like K.D. 

Like any elite scorer, Durant's overall impact on a game and his ability to get the ball in the hole are intertwined. When he's feeling it, things open up for his teammates and he plays defense with an extra kick in his step. When he's off, he's more likely to stand around as a passive observer of the game and to force his shots from outside. 

What we've seen from Durant in Games 5 and 6 against the Memphis Grizzlies is something he hasn't done all season: Have two "bad" scoring nights in a row.

In Game 5, Durant scored just 19 points (was still the team's leading scorer) in a Thunder blowout win, playing just 31 points. In Game 6, Durant had arguably his worst all-around offensive performance of the season, scoring a season-low 11 points and shooting 3-for-14 from the field. That tied season-lows in field goals and field goal percentage, and he attempted zero shots coming from in the paint. All in all, just terrible and very anti-Durant. 

During the 2010-2011 season (including playoffs), Durant scored less than twenty points just seven times. His ability to bounce back from those games was remarkable: In the seven games following his less than 20 point performances, Durant averaged 28.4 points and scored at least 26 points in five of them. In other words, the 30 combined points in Games 5 and 6 are by far his lowest two-game point totals of the year.

Here's a chart to emphasize the back-to-back scoring cliff Durant has fallen off. The season progresses through time from left to right.
kevin-durant-points

On Friday night, Durant obviously battled foul troubles, picking up two quick ones in the first quarter which led to an extended rest that appeared to affect his rhythm. It wasn't just the fouls, though. Durant was standing around and watching, strugging to get open and rushing his shots once he did get touches. He wasn't totally disintersted but he certainly wasn't engaged, especially as Oklahoma City crashed and burned down the stretch, scoring just 29 points as a team in the second half.

That Durant struggled for the second game in a row at the worst possible time should absolutely be concerning to Thunder fans. His excellent ability to bounce back from poor scoring performances will be badly needed during Sunday night's Game 7. Two games in a row under 20 points was, to this point, unprecedented. Three games in a row under 20 points is almost unfathomable, and it would very likely mean an early end to the Thunder's dream season.
Posted on: May 14, 2011 1:42 am
Edited on: May 14, 2011 1:48 am
 

NBA Playoffs: Hollins lets Mayo out of the box

Key adjustment from Lionel Hollins helps Grizzlies force Game 7. 

Posted by Matt Moore





 Lionel Hollins has been stingy with his rotations. Despite what seems apparent from anecdotal or empirical evidence, Hollins has stuck with his guys through thick and thin. That's why Sam Young is a starter in the National Basketball Association. And it's worked forthe Grizzlies. But faced with a must-win Game 6, in the actual "must-win" sense, Hollins finally made an adjustment. He started O.J. Mayo in Young's stead. The result? 16 points and 4 steals for OJAM as the Grizzlies force a Game 7. 

Mayo's had the worst year of his career. Yanked from the starting lineup for the first time in his career, knocked out on a team flight, busted for PEDs, and was almost traded. He had every reason to dive into a bench-riding funk and bury himself on the pine. Instead, he embraced the team in the face of their post-deadline surge, working to play smarter and harder. His contributions have been considerable, but more importantly, timely in the playoffs, but his Game 6 performance was biggest. 

The Thunder were suffocating the Grizzlies slowly as this series went on. They were focused on packing the paint, bringing help, and allowing anyone but Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph to get theirs. Without any Grizzlies capable of spreading the floor on the starting unit the Thunder could force misses, get out in transition, and attack the rim with Russell Westbrook. Mayo's perimeter range served two functions in Game 6. It gave the Grizzlies a legitimate perimeter shooter who gets more active and involved the more he scored, which they are severely lacking when Mayo's not zoned in, and it spread the floor which forced the Thunder to cover Zach Randolph one-on-one. 

Yeah, that didn't work out great for the Oklahoma kiddos. 

If Hollins getting out of his comfort zone and switching up his rotation was stunning, then the return to normalcy was Scott Brooks' decision not to insert James Harden into the unit starting the second half. That helped spark the Memphis comeback as it prevented a mismatch at multiple positions. The Grizzlies could live with Wetbrook attacking O.J. Mayo on the perimeter as long as it was Thabo Sefolosha being guarded by Mike Conley and not James Harden. With Harden in, there were crisp passes, competent distribution and good team play. Scott Brooks keeps adding elements to why he, like his Coach of the Year award winners before him, might have trouble down the line. The Thunder are one win away from the Conference Finals, but you still have to feel like they squandered an opportunity with a double digit lead that had the Memphis crowd out of it. 

If Game 5 proved that the Thunder simply have the talent to win this series, Game 6 proved the Grizzlies simply have the will. If this series finishes by coming down to coaching, the Thunder have to get nervous. Lionel Hollins continues to get this ragtag group to play up to and above their potential. 

Down and out, nearly traded? Just another Memphis savior as the Grizzlies force one more. 

Game 7 is Sunday. 

Posted on: May 14, 2011 1:03 am
Edited on: May 14, 2011 9:55 pm
 

What's At Stake: Carlos Boozer

What's at stake for Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer in the Eastern Conference finals? Posted by Ben Golliver.



The one good thing about having your reputation ruined when the world thinks you double-crossed a blind man during public contract negotiations is that you have nowhere to go but up. Sure, everyone looks at you sideways and cracks jokes at your expense, but the pressure to be perfect and the expectation that you’ll rise to the moment in big situations is lifted. That’s not a trade-off most people would make, but once it happens things could be worse.

That’s been the situation for Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer. For the past four years, Boozer put up solid playoff numbers for the Utah Jazz, teaming up with Deron Williams to advance out of the first round three times. Never really seen as the centerpiece, Boozer nevertheless averaged roughly a 20/12 over his playoff career in Utah, numbers that are mostly forgotten because they came with the help of an elite point guard and, frankly, because they took place for a small market team.    

Eastern Conference Finals: Heat vs. Bulls

After joining the Bulls this past summer, Boozer got a taste of the big-city spotlight and it hasn’t gone over perfectly. He broke his hand mysteriously before the season, forcing him to miss 20 games, and has battled turf toe during the playoffs. His playoff numbers scoring number is way down – he’s averaging just 11.8 points per game while playing roughly the same number of minutes as he did during the regular season. Despite the fact that he continues to keep his rebounding near double figures, he’s a running punch line and punching bag for Bulls fans, who obviously expected more from their $80 million man.

Whether he actually views it this way or not, Boozer should approach the Eastern Conference finals as if he has nothing to lose. If the Bulls are eliminated he will be at or near the top of the scapegoat list regardless of how he plays. That much has already been cemented. Should the Bulls win, however, he’s got a chance to soak in some of the Derrick Rose media glow sunshine and rehabilitate/recast himself as a hard-working veteran who hung around long enough and played his game long enough to get his shot at a ring. That’s not a bad trade-off.

Even better, Boozer isn’t enough the most highly-paid, disappointing and unreliable power forward in this series. That honor goes to Heat forward Chris Bosh, of course, who will be crucified and buried should Miami not advance. Boozer should have a physicality advantage and he certainly has a more physical frontline surrounding him. Bosh enters the series with a tougher personal assignment given Miami’s thin center rotation and the Chicago’s commitment to hard-nosed defense and rebounding.

So what’s at stake for Boozer here? Given that this is Chicago’s first playoff run together and doubts are already high, he just doesn’t have much to lose. If he throws together a big series, the United Center fans that were booing him earlier during the playoffs will surely rally around him. If not, he was the bad guy anyway.

Posted on: May 13, 2011 8:07 pm
Edited on: May 14, 2011 9:54 pm
 

What's At Stake: LeBron James

What's at stake for Miami Heat forward LeBron James in the Eastern Conference finals? Posted by Ben Golliver.




What’s at stake for LeBron James in the Eastern Conference finals? Only the world, Chico, and everything in it.

James played two of the best minutes the NBA has ever seen to eliminate the Boston Celtics, stopping only long enough to kneel on the court, to take a moment to appreciate all that he had accomplished in overcoming his bitter rivals. The only problem, of course, is that he is still just halfway to a title. Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls are capable of evaporating everything James has earned in the past 48 hours – confidence, peace of mind, a feeling of accomplishment, validation for his decision to leave Cleveland, a rush of popularity – by defeating the Heat. If James doesn’t emerge from this summer with a ring, he’ll be back at square one, hearing the same old boos and answering the same old questions he dealt with all season long.

This all-or-nothing conundrum probably isn’t fair to James but he should be used to it by now. He has demanded attention since he was in high school. He has ascended to the pinnacle of his sport, the undisputed best all-around player in the NBA. He’s even made it to the Finals before. None of that has mattered to his critics. And, we came to find out last summer, to him either.

Winning his first championship -- with others to follow -- was his stated goal. He’s reiterated multiple times over the past week that the Celtics helped inspire his decision to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. He couldn’t beat Boston alone, he admitted. Securing the best shot to climb the mountain won out over hometown loyalty, the biggest paycheck and any other factors. That’s the narrative he’s crafted, that's the script he's reading from.

Eastern Conference Finals: Heat vs. Bulls

The Heat envision themselves as the future of the NBA, the axis that everyone else spins around, the epicenter of both cool and success, a dynasty in the making. In James' mind, he's the protagonist always.

A loss to the Bulls, then, would amount to an identity crisis. Being beaten by a team with just one All-Star? A team that had won one playoff series in the past 12 seasons combined? It would be not only an embarrassment but also worrisome. Chicago’s core is set in place for the foreseeable future. Their coach is one of the most widely respected in the game. They’re deep, disciplined and hard-working. They’ve got big city cachet and an instant likeability among both casual fans and basketball purists. The Heat would be set back, back to being the villains, back to being the foils. 

Wade already has a ring to console himself. Bosh has admitted to being in a bit over his head already during the playoffs, so he would be able to rationalize away such a loss. Coach Erik Spoelstra has demonstrated an ability to maintain a long-term perspective through adversity, so he’d be alright in the event of a loss too. He would beat himself up but then realize that there are plenty more opportunities ahead. Pat Riley has so much hardware and such a great tan nothing really matters at this point of his career, at least not comparatively.

But James? James would be out of excuses for another year. Left to walk off the court in defeat, his team’s roster-building ability in the hands of the NBA’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement, his reputation as a player that can’t get it done extended for at least another 12 months. Self-doubt would be back in a big way, the team's top-heavy approach would be questioned, he would have to hit the recruiting trail hard, hoping that the league's elder statesmen could be convinced to sign up at the minimum salary to help him win his ring. Would James have the stomach for all that? The patience? The composure?

james-dunk-celtics 

He’s been the best player in this year’s playoffs, averaging 26.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.3 steals while playing more than 43 minutes a night. He’s been clutch. He’s been steady. He’s even been newly flexible, allowing Wade to carry the load when he has it going. He’s shown an admirable commitment to the boards. His level of focus this year is as laser-like as we’ve ever seen, his intensity the exact opposite of what it was a year ago. 

To imagine all of those things wiped away by four losses, just as the vast majority of his previous playoff heroics have been forgotten because he hasn’t secured a title, is a difficult proposition so soon after the triumph over Boston. But that’s what happens if the Bulls win. The pendulum swings that hard. It's happened before, and it’s inevitable.

This might not be his best shot and it certainly won't be his last shot. But, given the remaining teams left in the field, this is a very, very, very good shot. Once Game 1 tips, he, more than anyone else, will be expected to deliver. 

And that’s why the Eastern Conference finals – and the NBA Finals too -- mean more to James than anyone else. His career, reputation, personality and trajectory are subject to a total redefinition and reevaluation with eight more wins. That's why James has the most at stake. Nobody else is a close second.

Posted on: May 13, 2011 1:30 am
Edited on: May 13, 2011 8:41 pm
 

Heat-Bulls: The dream matchup is set

America gets its dream Eastern Conference finals matchup: The Miami Heat vs. the Chicago Bulls. Posted by Ben Golliver.



The 2011 Eastern Conference finals are about to be sliced and diced into pieces, broken down to the most minute detail, but as the Chicago Bulls blew out the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday night to advance to face the Miami Heat, the instant take for any basketball fan should have been pure glee. This is the dream matchup. This is exactly who everyone -- especially those who have been watching over the past few months -- wanted to see.

Toss aside the "Good" vs. "Evil", "Humble" vs. "Egocentric" and "Balanced Team" vs. "Superstar Triad" dichotomies, if only for tonight. Take a second to realize that not only are arguably the three most exciting, dynamic, athletic players in the NBA sharing the court, but that two of the top five or so defenses will be out there too. 

In the regular season, Chicago sported the No. 1 defense and the No. 12 offense. In the playoffs, they've had the No. 2 defense and the No. 5 offense. In the regular season, Miami posted the No. 3 offense and the No. 5 defense. In the postseason, Miami has had the No. 3 offense and the No. 3 defense. In the regular season, Chicago led the league in rebounding while Miami was third; in the postseason, Chicago remains No. 1 and Miami has improved to No. 2. 

Chicago led the league in wins (62); Miami was third (58). This is a matchup of elite teams, groups that have played both sides of the ball well since the season started and are peaking at the right time. Consider: Chicago went 8-0 in April while Miami was 6-1. In the playoffs, Chicago is 8-3 while Miami is 8-2. In other words, over the past six weeks Chicago is 16-3 while Miami is 14-3. That's one loss per week -- combined -- for a month a half. 

One final plus: Both teams enter the series healthy, or as healthy as can be expected in mid-May. 

Each team has a guard the other has no answer for: Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade. Each team has an inconsistent power forward who is a national lightning rod: Carlos Boozer and Chris Bosh. The Bulls' vaunted defense will surely be tested by LeBron James, but Miami's weak bench will be pushed to its limit by the Bench Mob. 

There's a fair argument to be made that these are the best two teams remaining in the playoffs and the difference between the two teams is razor thin. Hell, even their basketball operations departments tied in the Executive of the Year voting.

Upsets are nice, and it's great theater to watch crumbling dynasties and players melting down. But excellent basketball trumps all of that. It could get physical, it will likely be more defensive-minded and less highlight-driven than we might expect, but this series will deliver excellent basketball.

(And we need that after suffering through the Atlanta Hawks.)
Posted on: May 13, 2011 12:25 am
Edited on: May 13, 2011 12:49 am
 

Playoff Fix: Thunder look to keep the party going

The Oklahoma City Thunder look to eliminate the Memphis Grizzlies from the Western Conference semifinals. Posted by Ben Golliver.

thunder-celebration

One Big Thing: Short term memory loss. That's the key for Game 6, after the Oklahoma City Thunder wiped the court with the Memphis Grizzlies, running up the score and celebrating to their heart's desire in a 99-72 blowout win in Game 5. If the Grizzlies can't move past the debacle, the young and hungry Thunder will gladly send them packing for the summer. Kevin Durant, in particular, will be looking to repeat his close-out heroics from the first round, when he dropped in 41 points -- including 16 in the fourth quarter -- to eliminate the Denver Nuggets. Similarly, the Thunder need to put their Game 5 win out of sight and out of mind. Closing out the Nuggets at home was one thing; closing out the Grizzlies, in front of a rejuvenated FedEx Forum, is an entirely different challenge.

The X-Factor: I've been waiting and waiting for Mike Conley Jr. to collapse under the weight of the playoffs and it finally happened in Games 4 and 5. In Game 4, he shot 2-12, but was able to compensate by getting to the free throw line 12 times. In Game 5, there were no free throw attempts, nor any sort of compensation for his awful shooting. He went 4-16 from the field and committed three turnovers to finish -22 on the night. Just brutal. While he's played above his head in the playoffs against some elite competition, those performances in pivotal swing games can be a killer for the confidence. Can he pull it together or has the damage been done?

The Adjustment: Memphis's shot distribution was out of wack in Game 5. You don't want to read too deeply into the numbers when a game is out of hand that early, but consider that starting guards Conley and Tony Allen jacked up 29 combined shots while Zach Randolph had just nine attempts. That was the first time since March 7 that Randolph has played 32 minutes and not had at least 10 field goal attempts. It was also the first time since February 7 that he failed to score in double figures. While Nick Collison has done a superb job on Randolph in this series, the Grizzlies, with their total lack of three-point shooting ability, need to get back to pounding Randolph. It's better to go down doing what you do well. Randolph, for his part, needs to rise to the moment and bounce back like he did in Games 3 and 4 after similar struggles in Game 2. It's now or never for one of this year's best playoff performers.

The Sticking Point: The biggest factor that could hold Memphis back from extending this series could very well be playing time. Thunder stars Durant and Russell Westbrook played just 31 and 25 minutes respectively in Game 5, the perfect follow-up to the Game 4 triple-overtime marathon which saw both players log more than 50 minutes. At times in this series, Durant's ability to get open and Westbrook's decision-making have taken a hit late in games. They should be nice and fresh for crunch time on Friday night.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com