Grizzlies-Thunder Preview

The arrival of Kendrick Perkins was expected to give the

Oklahoma City Thunder the kind of inside muscle they needed to

stand their ground with some of the NBA’s beefiest big men.

In the opener of their Western Conference semifinal series with

Memphis, it was the Grizzlies who did the bruising.

Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol combined for 54 points and 23

rebounds in leading eighth-seeded Memphis to a road victory in Game

1 for the second straight series. The Grizzlies got 52 points in

the paint, more than any team but the Los Angeles Lakers have

scored against Oklahoma City with Perkins in the lineup.

”They played physical, they bullied us in the first game,”

guard James Harden said after practice Monday. ”So, the second

game, we just have to prepare and go out there and not make excuses

and win a game.”

Game 2 is Tuesday night in Oklahoma City.

The Grizzlies, who led the NBA with 51.5 points per game in the

paint, averaged a whopping 59 against Oklahoma City while winning

the regular-season series 3-1. The Thunder’s only win came when

Memphis scored 60 points inside but went 10-for-38 outside the

paint, including 1 for 15 on 3-pointers.

”We just have to pack the paint,” Harden said. ”Pack the

paint, clog it up, make them shoot outside jump shots. They lead

the league in paint points, so we have to cover that up.”

Randolph has set the Grizzlies’ playoff scoring record in

back-to-back games, with 31 points in Game 6 against top-seeded San

Antonio and then 34 – along with 10 rebounds – in Game 1 at

Oklahoma City.

He’s had three games with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds

against the Thunder.

”I think Zach showed you how much he can do if they don’t

double-team him,” teammate Darrell Arthur said. ”And if they do

double-team, he’s such a great passer out of the post that it

doesn’t really matter.”

Randolph has become one of the stars of the playoffs, a player

with no history of postseason success during his 10-year career

leading a franchise that had never won a playoff series until

knocking off top-seeded San Antonio a few days ago.

He was better known for some run-ins with the law. But after

bouncing from Portland to New York to the Los Angeles Clippers, he

has found a fit in Memphis.

”I think Zach is the epitome of life,” Grizzlies coach Lionel

Hollins said. ”When we’re young people, we make mistakes. We do

things that we shouldn’t do, and we grow and become better men.

Whether it’s in this game or in life, that’s what this world is all

about.”

Randolph has looked unstoppable, even against a front line that

added Perkins – one of the NBA’s top low-post defenders – at the

trade deadline in February. The move allowed Serge Ibaka, the

league’s top shot blocker, to move from center to his natural power

forward position.

Coach Scott Brooks thought the Thunder did a decent job of

getting Randolph and Gasol out of the areas where they’re

strongest, but it still wasn’t good enough.

”Zach made eight shots from the perimeter. There’s nothing you

can do about that, other than pushing him outside a few extra feet

and crowding his space. Gasol made four jump shots, and that’s not

his strength of his game,” Brooks said. ”But they made them and

give them credit. They stepped up and they made those shots.”

Gasol went 4 for 4 on jumpers from at least 14 feet and Randolph

hit eight jumpers from at least 10 feet out, including a

3-pointer.

”We can shoot the ball, pick and roll. It ain’t just coming

down and throwin’ it in the post,” Randolph said. ”We can do

different stuff a lot of the other big guys can’t do.”

Perkins said ”that wasn’t Thunder basketball (Sunday), and it’s

going to be a different game tomorrow.”

”It wasn’t nothing like they had a lot of shots in the paint.

He hit a lot of outside shots (Sunday) – contested, tough shots at

that – so you’re not overreacting to nothing,” Perkins said. ”I

feel like we just didn’t play our game.

”I don’t get too much concerned about what the other team’s

doing. I’m always concerned about what we do.”

The Grizzlies – who led the NBA in steals and turnovers forced –

also scored 23 points off of 18 Oklahoma City turnovers and 22

second-chance points off of 17 offensive rebounds.

”That has to change,” Brooks said. ”We have to get better in

those areas because that’s their strength, and they had their way

with their strength. We don’t want that to happen.”

Brooks said he was hesitant to double-team Randolph too much

because he’s become a quality passer when the Grizzlies send

players cutting to the basket.

”There’s only so many things you can do on a basketball

court,” Randolph said. ”They could double-team me and push me

baseline. There’s only two things. I’ve seen almost anything, so

I’ll be ready for whatever they throw at me.”