Zach Randoph is the best power forward in the NBA?
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Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant had made that declaration about the Memphis big man after his team was walloped in Game 1 of a Western Conference semifinal. If it was a brilliant ploy to soften up Randolph, score another one for the NBA’s leading scorer.
Randolph had been quite happy to agree with Durant’s declaration. He even went so far as to say, "I don’t think nobody in the league can stop me."
Well, Nick Collison can.
Two days after Randolph had scored a career playoff-high 34 points in the 114-101 Grizzlies win Sunday afternoon in Game 1, he was stymied in a 111-102 loss Tuesday night in Game 2 at Oklahoma City Arena. Randolph didn’t have a field goal in the second half, including being shut down by Collison in the third quarter.
Nick must be better at night.
"The key to the game was Nick Collison," said Thunder center Kendrick Perkins. "He played extremely hard. He frustrated Randolph."
It looked initially as if it might be bad news for Oklahoma City when starting power forward Serge Ibaka, who did a solid job himself on Randolph, didn’t start the second half after suffering a minor right-knee injury late in the second quarter. Ibaka was able to return late in the third quarter but not in place of Collison, who played the entire quarter.
Collison held Randolph in the quarter to 0-of-three shooting for two points and to one rebound. For the game, with Ibaka and Collison doing tag-team work, Randolph shot two of 13 and scored 15 points.
"We came out with no energy. We came out like we had done something (by winning Game 1),’’ said Randolph, perhaps admitting for the first time a No. 8 seed being overconfident in the playoffs. “They were a physical team . . . (Randolph had a tough time) getting my rhythm. I just couldn’t get the ball, really. Just a bad game on my end."
Randolph is a fine player, but there were eight power forwards in last February’s All-Star Game, and he wasn’t one of them. Even though Durant had gotten it started, there’s no doubt it wasn’t a pleasant sight for those on the Thunder to see Randolph smiling at a news conference after Game 1 and saying, "I got to agree with (what Durant said)."
Perkins, Oklahoma City’s enforcer, vowed the Thunder would be more physical in Game 2, and they were. Perkins said the team had a "few meetings" in between games to "get guys to understand their roles."
"We wanted to come out and match their intensity and get the first hit," said Durant, who scored a game-high 26 points for the Thunder, which took a 28-17 lead after the first quarter. "It was definitely tough losing Game 1 on our home court. However, that made us want to come back here and win this one. We knew we had to come back and be even more prepared."
Want a statistic that gave Oklahoma City players ample reason for feeling that way? In NBA history, just 14 of 245 teams trailing 2-0 have come back to win in a best-of-seven series. That’s a microscopic 5.7 percent.
While tying the series 1-1, Oklahoma City also got 24 points from Russell Westbrook and 21 from James Harden. The Thunder were eight of 14 from three-point range, nine of 15 if you count a fan hitting a halfcourt shot before the fourth quarter to win $20,000.
But defense was the key. Yes, Memphis guard Mike Conley scored 24 points, 14 during a second half in which the Thunder led by as many as 21 points. But Grizzlies center Marc Gasol was held to 13 points on three-of-nine shooting after he had scored 20 on nine-of-11 marksmanship in Game 1.
"They collapsed the paint. They were more physical," said Gasol, even if Grizzlies forward Darrell Arthur got a fourth-quarter technical for throwing an elbow at Harden. "We settled."
Settled, that is, for outside shots. At halftime, Memphis owner Michael Heisley wondered why his team wasn’t going inside more. After all, that’s the reason the Grizzlies have been able to make it this far.
When Randolph tried to assert himself to start the second half, Collison had something to say about it. While Collison’s statistics on the night were modest (seven points and seven rebounds), there was plenty of agreement that a guy with a 7.4 career scoring average was pivotal.
"I just tried to compete against him," Collison said. "I tried to make things difficult on him and make his catches difficult."
Collison logged 25 minutes, six over his postseason average entering the game, because he was playing so well and because of Ibaka’s injury. Ibaka, who did play 30 minutes, reinjured his knee late in the game and limped off.
But Ibaka, averaging an NBA postseason-best 4.43 blocks, said he should be "fine" for Saturday’s Game 3 in Memphis. Even if he isn’t, the Thunder at least have figured out a way to slow the Zach attack in the Nick of time.