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Tag:Tony Allen
Posted on: September 20, 2011 1:44 pm
 

Year of the Grizzlies



By Matt Moore


To say that every franchise has "that year" that changes everything is just not true. Most franchises take time to develop, to blossom from fledgling to regular to up-and-comer to contender to powerhouse. There are titanic events that shape franchises, to be sure, almost always involving the NBA draft. The Spurs, for example, nabbed Tim Duncan to go along with a recovering David Robinson. That was a game-changer for them, literally. But the Spurs had been a playoff team for years, had been contenders in the ABA and NBA, a team that had developed over time. The Miami Heat had the 2006 year when everything came together, but they had also grown in legitimacy through the Alonzo Mourning era. 

But the Grizzlies?

The Grizzlies are having a year that could remake their franchise as a whole. Okay, maybe it's two years. 

It started with re-signing Rudy Gay in free agency for a max deal. The Grizzlies took a world of flak for the decision, since Gay wasn't considered a max player at the time, nor is he now. But it was a shift for the Grizzlies. It was a change in owner Michael Heisley's previous approach, in that it showed he was willing to spend, and spend heavy, in order to compete. Heisley had taken on water as being cheap since trading Pau Gasol (the last player he gave a significant contract to). There were questions of whether the young, talented roster the Grizzlies had been developing together since that Gasol trade would stay together. Heisley breaking out the wallet signified that if nothing else, Heisley was good to his word. He said he wanted to compete, and that if the team competed, he would spend. Re-signing Gay gave them the opportunity to do so.

Heisley followed that up with what I thought was one of the worst contracts in franchise history, and what turned out to be one of the shrewdest moves in frachise history by extending Mike Conley before he could enter restricted free agency. In doing so, not only did he continue to show he would spend to keep the core together, but he also got Conley for a good value relative to his ability, as the young point guard matured into a floor general and reliable playmaker.

When Gay went down in February, the team had already started to rise. That's what's forgotten in the talk that Gay's injury was the cause for the Grizzlies's surge. the Grizzlies had been playing better since January 1st, going 11-6 in January. They had started to gel before Gay's injury and had Gay stayed healthy, it's not like he was keeping a difference maker off the floor. His minutes were absorbed by second-year player Sam Young, who contributed on both ends of the floor, but wasn't in any way better for the overall team structure than Gay, offensively or defensively.

The Grizzlies made a deadline deal to acquire Shane Battier, dumping franchise dead weight and first-round bust Hasheem Thabeet and an additional pick. They nearly made another deal, but fitting the pattern of good fortune, their deal to trade O.J. Mayo to Josh McRoberts fell through. The result was Mayo sticking around and being a huge part of the Grizzlies' playoff run. At the time, though, it seemed more like the kind of thing the Grizzlies tend to screw up as a habit. 

Nonetheless, the Grizzlies then went on one of the best runs in franchise history, even if the numbers don't bear it out. Consider this. The Grizzlies went 9-5 in March. Not great, but good, right? Here's who they played in March of 2011: Spurs, Hornets, Mavericks, Thunder, Knicks, Heat, Clippers, Knicks, Pacers, Jazz, Celtics, Bulls, Spurs, Warriors. That's eleven playoff teams out of fourteen opponents, with the others the wacky Warriors, the Jazz, and Blake Griffin. To survive that schedule around .500 would have been an achievement. To romp through it with success was what put them over the top and into the playoffs, creating a buffer wide enough to hold off the surging Rockets for the eighth spot.

Then, despite tanking to play the four-time champion San Antonio Spurs coming off one of their best regular seasons in years, the Grizzlies pulled one of the most impressive upsets in NBA history, not only beating the top seed but looking impressive doing it. The first franchise playoff win came in their first playoff game of the season, on the road, on the back of a Shane Battier three.  The Grizzlies would go on to push the mighty and revered Thunder to seven games, proving that the young argonauts were mortal after all. Though the Grizzlies fell, it was in the most respectable manner possible, with the real turning point being a triple-overtime thriller that was decided mostly due to various Grizzlies stars fouling out and not having enough energy left for the rest of the series. 

So that's a pretty great year, right? Except things continue to get better. During the playoff run, Heisley also paid Zach Randolph. Keeping the All-Star of the team on the roster has its ups and downs, considering his later-contract-year money vs. age, but it also provides them with the consistency Randolph's shown for years in being a 20-10 guy, and now a team leader.

But most importantly, this lockout, while harmful towards the franchise's momentum in terms of fan support which has always been tepid in Memphis, could be the best thing of all. A revised CBA could allow for the Grizzlies to keep costs down, stabilizing the franchise's financials and eliminating one of the biggest disadvantages to their efforts, the market inequality that has kept them out of free agency conversations. A revised revenue sharing system would do wonders for the Grizzlies whose television deal pays them a fraction of the larger markets', and even the possibility of shortening the years on existing contracts could help with their long-term financials and flexibility.

There are drawbacks, of course. A hard cap implemented immediately would have devastating impacts on the Grizzlies considering the money they've already shelled out, much less the money necessary to re-sign restricted free agent Marc Gasol. But it's just as likely that a new system could come out favoring the Grizzlies' as much as any team in the league, from a financial and competitiveness standpoint.  

The final piece of the puzzle is Gasol. Re-signing one of the best young centers in the league, who has stated openly his desire to return to Memphis where he went to high school, cementing this core of players that genuinely enjoys playing with one another, could be the component that changes the Grizzlies from newly-respectable to consistent contender, at least for the playoffs. It gives the fans a reason to buy in, a group of players worth getting behind (as the elder Gasol's Grizzlies team never was), and could get owner Michael Heisley off the punchline lists around the league.

There is, naturally, the concern from fans and analysts of the extreme opposite, however. Once the Grizzlies finished their playoff run, my first thought was to wonder if this was similar to the Clippers' 2006 run. The Clippers made a strong showing in the playoffs, advancing to the second round and a close series with the run-and-gun Suns. But the year after, Elton Brand went down and everything tanked. The Clippers became the Clippers again. This is what seems to happen to franchises in the NBA. You're either "there" or you're not. Then again, we thought the latter about the Mavericks for decades until everything changed. Now look at them.

2010-2011 was a good year for the Grizzlies, a great year. 2011-2012 could wind up being the best yet. From ticket sales to on-court performance to the emergence of Gay as a superstar to being respected and feared as a contender, this could wind up being the point in time where the Grizzlies changed the course of franchise history, and forever altered the face of professional basketball in Memphis.  
Posted on: September 13, 2011 11:08 pm
Edited on: September 13, 2011 11:50 pm
 

NBA lockout news sweeps through Las Vegas gym

Posted by Ben Golliver

sebastian-telfair-waiting

LAS VEGAS -- A giant banner spans the entire baseline and rises some 20 feet into the air at Impact Basketball's Competitive Training Series. In full color, it depicts a player holding a basketball and screams a simple message in all capital letters: "POWER TO THE PEOPLE."

Given the news out of New York City on Tuesday, a day that saw labor talks between the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association go nowhere, the "people" in Las Vegas, the dozens of professional basketball players assembled here to train and go through organized, five-on-five scrimmages, felt fairly powerless.

The news from New York spread throughout the gym rapidly via text message and tweets shortly after the games began, and it was met with frustration, anger and nervousness from some of the players present. Others maintained appearances and downplayed the day's events, but word that no progess had been made and that there was no immediate next step in the talks definitely hit with a thud at Impact.

"It sucks," said free agent point guard Sebastian Telfair bluntly. "[I'm feeling] sadness and frustration. This is our lives, our livelihoods, this is how we make our living. Guys are not going to be able to play basketball. We all love to play basketball, we all like to compete. Everyone likes to go out there and try to play for the gold. Right now, we're not getting the opportunity to do that."

Telfair, who is 26 years old and played for the Minnesota Timberwolves last season, heard about the news via text message from his agent just minutes after stepping off the court. He said Tuesday that he badly wants to catch on with a contender next season but knows that can't happen until the proper compromises are reached. "I was hoping for something," Telfair said. "At least move and agree on some things and then the things that the NBA and the Players Association don't agree on, then we can argue about that. But I think the first step for the lockout is for us to agree on something."

The worst part is that Telfair seems to feel a bit trapped. A natural communicator and ever vocal on the court, calling defensive assignments and yelling encouragement to himself, Telfair struggled for words when asked to lay out what he can do to prepare himself in the event that the lockout leads to a work stoppage.

"There's not too many ways you can prepare yourself," Telfair said. "Either you can go take a job overseas or other than that… you sit and wait. I don't really have the other answers. Just stay in shape. Sit and wait. And when they do make an agreement, just be ready."

While he admitted that a work stoppage now seems like a "legit possibility," Telfair clearly would prefer a resolution sooner rather than later, calling the waiting game "brutal."

"We've got a lot of free agents, like myself, all that business is on hold right now," Telfair explained. "A lot of guys don't know what team they're going to be playing with or what. We need to get this thing jumping off fast."

Isaiah Thomas, a 22-year-old second round pick in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Sacramento Kings who has yet to sign a contract officially, couldn't agree more. Thomas admitted that the lack of progress on Tuesday, which he heard about on Twitter, is starting to make him "a little bit" nervous. 

"I'm mad, angry, because it feels like I'm still in college right now," Thomas said. "I made that decision [to skip his senior season] and I got drafted but nothing has changed. I've got to just patiently wait. Keep it in God's hands and hopefully it works out. Time is ticking. I've been patiently waiting. Hopefully if the time comes, I can get an NBA paycheck and be able to play and put on an NBA uniform." 

Knowing what to expect from next season and having a contract in hand would seem to ease some of the frustration that Telfair and Thomas are describing. Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen, for example, raised his voice and picked at his toes while discussing the league's ongoing labor talks, but was clear that he is not frustrated.

"We just riding under Billy Hunter right now," Allen said, expressing support for the Executive Director of the NBPA. "We're just hoping the league can negotiate with us and we can get this thing back going."

If not frustration, though, Allen, 29 and signed through next season and one more, did admit to feeling some "urgency."

"I know they need to get it done," Allen, a key member of a Grizzlies team that knocked off the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference playoffs, said. "I ain't here to say who is right and who is wrong but I am here to say, considering the run the Memphis Grizzlies had, I hope we get it back started soon. Keep our momentum going. We definitely put winning in our franchise this year, and having a lockout kind of put a dent in things. ... I understand commissioner David Stern and our player rep Billy Hunter both know what they want, but at the end of the day both sides have to agree to something. That's where we are at right now."

If only it were that simple. But there was one calm, steady voice among the group: Indiana Pacers forward and player representative Dahntay Jones.

With the media chatting and gossiping over the doom and gloom scenarios being floated in the wake of comments made by NBA commissioner David Stern and NBPA president Derek Fisher, Jones kept a relaxed, straight face, and made it clear that the frustration was understandable, but not all that meaningful.

"It's a part of negotiations," Jones, 30, said. "Any negotiation is going to get frustrating... We're happy with our representation at the meetings. We're prepared for the situation. We're prepared for what could possibly happen. We've been ready for it. It's not [anything] new. We know what the worst and the best outcome could be. We're waiting patiently."

He dismissed the most hysterical reactions as an unavoidable byproduct of the attention given to these negotiations and the level of investment that so many people feel towards the league.

"That's the media in general," Jones explained. "You can't believe everything you hear. Everything is spun off. That's just what happens with word of mouth, when stories get shared between people, things get changed sometimes. No media is in the meetings so they really can't give us everything that's going on."

Jones said he would get a full, accurate rundown of the current state of the talks on Thursday, when the players are set to meet at an undisclosed location in Las Vegas. He said he expects that meeting, like previous meetings, to be an informational status report and nothing more.

"Business as usual," Jones said. "There's no need for emotion in a situation like this... Every time we have a meeting, it's a business meeting."

Business meeting or not, time is ticking and alternate plans are being made. Telfair said he is "bound to the USA" and will only go overseas as a very last resort. Thomas said he has enrolled in three classes at the University of Washington and will work out in Seattle if there's a prolonged lockout. Jones would only say that he would "evaluate" his options as the process continues. Allen, like Telfair, wants to stay stateside.

"My audible is just to stay over here," he said. "I love the American game. I been doing that for the last seven years. [The wait] ain't got boring. That's my job. I don't know who could get tired of playing, doing something they love. I love playing basketball, that's why I'm out here playing right now."

The love of the game was a common theme among all the players, but surely it's alright to love getting paid to play the game too, right?

"I don't play for the money, I play for the love," Allen declared, finally and forcefully, ice packs taped to his left knee and right ankle. "Whenever I start playing for the wrong reasons, I know that's when it's time to quit."

The rest of the NBA's players, at least those who haven't already bolted for overseas, would do well to adopt Allen's philosophy, at least for the time being. They might as well.

Because power comes from leverage which, in turn, comes from options. And the people just don't have many good ones right now.

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 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.
Posted on: May 11, 2011 12:41 am
Edited on: May 11, 2011 2:30 pm
 

Playoff Fix: Who has something left?

Posted by Royce Young



One Big Thing:
Forget the teams and actual players, how do us spectators bounce back from Game 4? The game lasted somewhere around four hours in real time, 63 minutes in game time and saw players in each starting five play 55 or more minutes. It was a complete drain, and with only a day off in between, the question is all about energy. Who's got it?

And this is the pivotal game in the series. With it tied 2-2, the winner here is in complete position to take the series. The game is more important for the Thunder because they've won back homecourt advantage and, with a loss, would go back to Memphis facing elimination in a Game 6. The Grizzlies can survive a loss and play to get to a Game 7. The Thunder have to have this one.

The X-Factor: The Thunderdome. In a game where both teams are likely to be battling some fatigue, the fact the game is in Oklahoma City is a huge lift for the Thunder. Just that extra little jolt from their raucous home crowd might be the difference in fading in the second half and driving hard to the finish line.

The Grizzlies have proven they can win in OKC already, though, so they aren't out of it by any means. But up against some tired legs and heavy eyes, the Thunder's sea of blue may be the pick-me-up OKC needs.

The Adjustment: For as much criticism as there has been around Russell Westbrook, the reality is that Memphis has no one to guard him. They have two defenders to throw at Kevin Durant, but between Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo and Greivis Vasquez, the Grizzlies don't have an ideal defender there.

Where they succeed is packing the paint and sealing off Westbrook's drive, forcing him to shoot jumpshots. He's not bad from midrange, but not nearly as good as he is finishing in the paint.

The Sticking Point: I'm hung on wondering who has the momentum here. Of course it seems like the Thunder should because they were the victors of the triple-overtime game, but the Grizzlies have to feel pretty good about hanging in that game that long. After Conley and Mayo fouled out, they seemed doomed. But they made it through two more overtimes before finally running out of gas.

The Thunder had to have one of the two games in Memphis and got it. Now they have to have this one at home. The Grizzlies are the ones playing with not a lot to lose here. The pressure is on the Thunder. Can they execute just enough again to finally take charge of this series? I have a feeling we might be in for another classic here.
 
 
 
 
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