NBA Notebook: Thunder still look vulnerable
By Steve Loung, Contributing Editor
Toronto, Canada (Sports Network) - The Oklahoma City Thunder may have won Game 2 of their Western Conference semi-final with the Memphis Grizzlies, but by no stretch of the imagination was it an impressive victory.
Seeing a 21-point lead midway in the fourth quarter cut down to as little as seven isn't the way to close out a playoff game - particularly at home.
The Thunder got careless down the stretch and didn't show any sense of urgency until Memphis had whittled the lead down to 10 and even then it was apparent that the Grizzlies were putting in a greater effort.
It was disappointing to see Oklahoma City get so lax late in the game because up to the point where it had built that big lead, it was playing exceptional basketball, getting significant contributions from its bench and basically shutting down the Grizzlies' interior tandem of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. OKC gave the Memphis pair fits, holding them to just 18 points on 5-for-22 shooting - a significant improvement from the 54 points on 21-for-33 shooting the duo had in Game 1 - and actually managed to outscore the Grizzlies in the paint 38-34.
However, with the near collapse it almost seems like all that hard work to neutralize Randolph and Gasol was for naught as Memphis still nearly went up 2-0 in the series despite being forced to switch up its plan of attack.
A seed of doubt could've been planted into the minds of the Grizzlies had the blowout remained intact, but now Memphis should be feeling very confident heading into Game 3 with home court on its side because it's unlikely that the Grizzlies' two big men will struggle at home.
Another positive for the Grizzlies as it heads back to Memphis is what Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo showed in Game 2. The two guards carried the load offensively for their team and looked like a very good backup plan to the ineffective inside assault.
If Conley and Mayo are able to have similar performances in the next two nights, the Grizzlies will more than likely return to Oklahoma City Arena with a 3-1 series lead.
In order to ensure that doesn't happen and come away with at least a split, OKC will need to focus on what it did well in Game 2.
Other than the job that Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison did on Randolph and Gasol, the real key to the Thunder's win was the fact that they got out in transition, beating Memphis in fast-break points, 17-6.
Getting out into the open floor will be the best way for Oklahoma City to score against a Memphis defense that's given up an average of 14.3 points per game less in this post-season at home than away because it eliminates any chance of the Grizzlies setting up their defense where they're very effective.
The balanced attack between the Thunder's three leading scorers, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, will also be required to leave Memphis with at least one "W."
In Game 1, Durant and Westbrook both had exceptional games, scoring 33 and 29 points, respectively. In spite of this, their team still lost and that's because Harden was stymied.
The second-year man out of Arizona State will need to produce as he gives the Thunder not only a legitimate threat as a third scoring option, but as a major sparkplug off the bench. He's the kind of player who can get hot in a hurry and when he sees shots go in he becomes more aggressive and will start to attack the basket.
This adds an interesting dimension to OKC's offense as it can have three guys who are able to create their own shots and get to the free throw line - something that will put major pressure on even a good perimeter defensive team like the Grizzlies.
So far, the Thunder haven't been as good as they probably should've been. With the series shifting to Memphis now they'll find themselves in a similar predicament to what the San Antonio Spurs were in. If they don't manage to split, they're playoff run will come to an end in either Games 5 or 6.
05/04 10:59:26 ET