Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Grizzlies - Thunder Game Two: Heavyweight Beats Middleweight

Not Game Footage, Honest
You might think, from this blog and my general proclivities for all things Warriors, that I can only appreciate racehorse basketball with crazy numbers, Western Conference stuff that's basically the ABA for the 21st century. And you'd be right. But there is an Eastern-style grinder out there that makes old-school hearts race, and everyone they play goes that way. It is, of course, the Memphis Grizzlies, who prove that you don't need to get over the rim to dominate athletically. Or play compelling hoop.

How much of a physical edge do the Grizz have in their second round series against the Thunder? So much so that Scott Brooks went to Hasheem Thabeet, the infamous 7'-4" UConn bust who looks better than starting center Kendrick Perkins, in that Perkins looks like an ungainly turnstile against actually talented bigs, and Thabeet isn't in position enough to have that happen. The signature possession for the Grizz came in the second quarter, when Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph played volleyball on a 4-possession trip that finally ended in a made three. By the time this series is over, Memphis is going to take about 100 more shots from the floor than the Thunder. Assuming the series goes that long.

The interesting thing about the Grizz is that for such a good defensive team, they sure give up a lot of highlights. Part of that, of course, is Durant, who deserves so much better than his supporting cast. Near the end of the third quarter, Durant held the ball out high; Memphis sagged off a hair, expecting him to take the clock out. Instead, he crossed his man over, got past the first wave. then finished at the rim like an anaconda striking for the old school three. Just one of those OH DEAR GAWD moments that makes you think he can be the best player in the game, even though, well, LeBron James might just always be better. And then with 0.9 remaining in the third, he drew a three-shot foul from Darrell Arthur, who seemed to be convinced that he had to block a 50-footer to keep it from going in. (Well, Durant did miss one of the free throws, so I guess it was a good decision.)

You would have never known that the Thunder were the #1 seed with home court advantage tonight, mostly because Russell Westbrook being out just changes things irrevocably. The OKC crowd damn near wet-nursed their team tonight. They got into it nicely with attempts to antagonize Gasol, never let the Grizz rallies persist, didn't seem to lose confidence. Oh, and they didn't have a shrieking banshee next to the floor mic, unlike the Spurs last night. Their team could have had a cushion but for a ton of turnovers, but they also didn't deserve that cushion, given how many second-chance points Memphis got tonight.

As for the Grizz... other than being way too deferential to Tayshaun Prince in this one, like he's more than the fourth best option on the floor at any given time, it's hard to find fault with their effort. Durant spent much of this game in his old Effective And Passing mode, and was simply outstanding. (You know, kind of like how Chris Paul looked before the Grizz wore him out, too.) Even when he was pouring in points, or when Derek Fisher was opening eyes in a hot first half, they never seemed to panic.

And when it got late, the Grizz were just tougher, bigger, stronger, more poised, shaking off 27 lead changes to just lock it down late. This wasn't a steal game; this was a road team just being better when it mattered, ending the game on a 9-3 run where the only 3 was a who cares Fisher three at the buzzer. Grizz PG Mike Conley had 26-10-9 as his postseason of quiet domination continued, more or less taking Durant's 36-11-9. Gasol's 24-5-5 was a big deal, and the Thunder wouldn't have been in this one at all if it weren't for Fisher's 19 off the bench.

Durant is, of course, good enough to steal a road game on his own, especially if Martin actually shows up for a game. Fisher and Collison show up on the road, and maybe Perkins will do something useful, like get ejected and take something with him. But in watching the game, it's going the way it was expected; a deep power team slowing but surely turning a shallow finesse one into powder. It's oddly compelling, actually.

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