Memphis 95, Oklahoma City 83 (Series tied 3-3)
Offensive Ratings: Memphis 102.4, Oklahoma City 91.4
For the first time in the 2011 postseason, we'll be treated to a Game Seven as the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder go the distance. Memphis assured that result with an impressive second half at home during Friday's Game Six, outscoring Oklahoma City 51-29 after halftime to win going away.
Instead of collapsing down the stretch, the Thunder's offense started early. Oklahoma City's second-half statistics might be too frightening for squeamish readers. The Thunder shot 28.9 percent from the field, missed all 12 three-point attempts and collected just three offensive rebounds out of all of those misses. Besides Russell Westbrook, who scored 12 points after halftime, Serge Ibaka was the only other Thunder player to score multiple field goals (he had two).
Give the Grizzlies credit for an impressive defensive effort against Kevin Durant. The tandem of Tony Allen (in the third quarter) and Shane Battier (most of the fourth) allowed Durant few clean looks at the basket. A frustrated Durant, who battled foul trouble in the first half, ended up forcing shots from the perimeter. All four of Durant's shots in the fourth quarter came from beyond the arc, and he missed every one. Unable to get easy scores in the paint or at the free throw line, Durant finished the night with 11 points on 16 shooting possessions.
After an excellent first half, James Harden was equally stifled by the Memphis defense. Harden, who started 4-for-4, missed five of his shot attempts in the second half. He did have three assists, but Oklahoma City needed more shooting and scoring from Harden. The desperation to get some floor spacing forced Scott Brooks to go small and replace Kendrick Perkins with Daequan Cook late in the game. Meanwhile, the ill-timed slumps by Durant and Harden left Westbrook as the Thunder's only player capable of creating offense. Westbrook was OK, struggling with turnovers and his occasional tendency to jack questionable shots. Oklahoma City needed him to be great.
As we look ahead to Game Seven, the Thunder can't afford Durant and Harden to struggle again. Still, to the extent it's possible, it would be nice to see Oklahoma City try to get some kind of offensive production from players outside the Durant-Harden-Westbrook troika. Getting anything from Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha (averaging a combined 8.2 points in better than 50 minutes a night in this series) would be a welcome change. You can't throw the ball to those players, certainly, but even involving them more as scoring options away from the ball would relieve some of the pressure on the Thunder's stars.
Oklahoma City also has to do work on the offensive glass. Throughout the series, the Thunder has averaged better than one second chance for every three misses. (The previous exception, oddly, was in Oklahoma City's Game Two win.) Serge Ibaka chipped in valuable offensive rebounds when the Grizzlies briefly and unsuccessfully went small late in the first half, but post-halftime the Thunder corralled just 11.5 percent of available misses.
Two things clicked for the Memphis offense. The first was Lionel Hollins' decision to start O.J. Mayo at shooting guard ahead of Sam Young. Mayo, who has had an excellent defensive series, responded with 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting. As for the second, Zach Randolph was simply unstoppable in the post. It was one of those nights for Randolph, who matched Oklahoma City point for point (12-12) after returning to the game with 9:04 left to play. In addition to making plays in the post, Randolph was key to the Grizzlies' brilliant defensive rebounding, coming up with 11 defensive rebounds in the second half alone.
Hollins' biggest concern in advance of Game Seven has to be his second unit. The Memphis bench was outplayed again, leading Hollins to ride his starters in the second half. Shane Battier was the lone reserve to play more than five minutes after halftime. Hollins might be able to do the same in Game Seven, but fatigue is a legitimate concern after the way the Grizzlies struggled in Game Five.
It's tough to tell what we'll see in Game Seven because this series has had so little rhythm from game to game. I'm a believer that each game in a playoff series is unique, but this matchup has taken that notion to extremes because of the wild swings from one game to the next. Durant and Randolph have gone from unstoppable to struggling and back. I think the Thunder is the slightly better team, which is amplified by home-court advantage, but neither outcome would surprise me.
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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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