The Thunder are without Russell Westbrook, who is out after undergoing knee surgery, as they face Hollins’ Grizzlies in the Western Conference semifinals, but he can’t dwell on who is in or who is out of Oklahoma City’s lineup.
”I’m not worried about who they have or don’t have,” Hollins said. “We have to go out … and play according to our abilities.”
Memphis is coming off a series that shockingly didn’t maim anyone. The Grizzlies and Clippers wrestled — literally at times — through six physical games. Oklahoma City finished off Houston in six and is learning to play without Westbrook.
Game 1 is Sunday at 1 p.m. ET., in Oklahoma City, with Game 2 Tuesday. Sunday will be the Thunder’s fifth game without Westbrook.
Memphis won two of three against the Thunder in the regular season, once each at Chesapeake Arena and the FedExForum, but these teams are no stranger to a long, grinding series.
They went seven games two seasons ago in a semifinal series won by the Thunder. It was the the closest Memphis has come to reaching the West finals.
Keep An Eye On
Kevin Durant. Obvious enough, but Durant will likely have to carry much of the load on his own with Westbrook out.
In their three regular-season meetings, Westbrook averaged 24.3 points, eight rebounds and 9.2 assists against 3.8 turnovers. While Durant has had his way against the Grizzlies, averaging 31 points, eight rebounds and nearly five assists per game this season, Oklahoma City will need him to dominate this series.
Durant will get fronted by Grizzlies guard Tony Allen, one of the league’s best defenders, and who is coming off the best offensive playoff performance of his career as he had 19 points to go along with six assists in the Game 6 win over the Clippers. He is averaging a career-high 12 points per game in the postseason.
There is no love lost between Oklahoma City forward Kendrick Perkins and Memphis forward Zach Randolph. In a November matchup, Perkins and Randolph were both ejected for jawing at one another late in the game.
The two left toward separate locker rooms but Randolph made his way to the entrance of Oklahoma City’s quarters where he confronted Perkins. Randolph was fined $25,000 by the NBA.
The altercation spawned a new Memphis playoff slogan: “We don’t bluff,” a take off Memphis’ Bluff City nickname, which came via this Randolph quote after that altercation: “There’s a lot of bluffing going on on the court, that’s all. And I don’t bluff.”
Friday, Memphis handed out 18,119 “We Don’t Bluff” towels.
Randolph may have to have extra ice on both of his veteran knees again this series. He is coming off a physical series — a lot of it between him and Clippers forward Blake Griffin. Their battle came to a head Friday, when the two wound up on the floor. Randolph was later ejected for jawing with the Los Angeles bench, a move that ignited the home crowd to “Z-Bo” chants as he skipped off the floor and tossed his headband to fans above the Grizzlies’ bench.
Randolph laughed with media about it after the game. Neither he or Griffin would come completely clean about what happened or what was said during the series.
Randolph is averaging 24.8 points in the last four games. Perkins is averaging 2.2 points in 16 minutes per game in the playoffs.
1. Bayless Off The Bench
Jerryd Bayless has become Memphis’ go-to player with time running out in the quarters. His full-court drive in L.A. was huge for the Grizzlies’ Game 5 momentum and he did it two more times at home Friday.
Bayless is averaging 18.3 points per game against the Thunder this season, nearly 10 more points than he averaged in the regular season.
The first-year Grizzly is coming off of his best playoff game this season, scoring 18 points Friday, with three makes from behind the arc. He also topped his season averages in assists and rebounds against Oklahoma City.
2. Rebounds Big For Memphis
Memphis took control of its series against the Clippers by crashing the boards. The Grizzlies were beat to the punch in an 0-2 start in Los Angeles, but won the battle of the boards in three straight wins. Friday’s Game 6 win was the first game Memphis won in the series without a rebounding edge. L.A. had one more, plus-2 on the offensive end.
In three games against OKC, Memphis has outrebounded the Thunder 47-43 and holds a 17.3 to 9.3 edge on the offensive glass. Those numbers helped Memphis take an average of 17 more shots per game.
3. Grizzlies Don’t Score A Bunch, But When They Do …
Since the start of the regular season, Memphis is 25-1 when scoring at least 100 points and 18-1 when shooting .500 or better.
Against Oklahoma City this season, Memphis averaged 95.3 points, including 98.5 in the two wins, two points above the Thunder’s regular-season average allowed. A late January loss at OKC came just after the trade of Rudy Gay and before Tayshaun Prince and the rest of the trade acquisitions arrived.
Memphis averaged 93.4 points per game this season, 26th in the league. The Thunder finished third in the regular season with 105.7 points per game.
Memphis finished the regular season as the league’s best defense in points per game and if it scores in triple figures, should be a tough out in the playoffs. OKC held opponents to 96.5 points per game, 10th in the league.