The Oklahoma City Thunder played an excellent first half in Game 6 of their series with the Memphis Grizzlies. They attacked on offense and defense and this provided them with a lot of transition opportunities. Their attacking style opened up a 13 point lead late
in the first half. Unfortunately the Thunder allowed a late 3 point shot to Shane Battier to close out the first half and then had a complete second half collapse. They played the entire second half with out the energy, focus or intensity needed to close out this series. The Thunder followed up their first half output of 54 points with only 29 second half points.
Instead of boarding a plane to play the Dallas Mavericks in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals the Thunder headed back to Oklahoma City to play Game 7 of this series. The Thunder will need to defend Zach Randolph, take care of the ball, have tremendous focus, and get a big game from Kevin Durant.
The Grizzlies must get the ball to Zach Randolph early and often. They must put shooters on the floor who can space the court and allow Randolph room to maneuver. In addition Tony Allen and Shane Battier must be physical with and deny Kevin Durant from getting to his sweet spots. If they can limit his effectiveness and frustrate him for the second game in a row they have a chance to close out this series on the Thunder’s home court.
Game 7 Adjustments:
1.The Grizzlies need to ride Zach Randolph in Game 7. He is an offensive beast and the Grizzlies should play thru him. They
should feed Randolph early and often and live with the results. Every opposing coach says after playing the Grizzlies that once Randolph gets it going that he is difficult to stop. Well I think that the Grizzlies should get him going and keep going at him. Randolph had 30 points in Game 6 on 12-22 from the field. He scored 8 points in the first quarter and 12 of his teams 23 fourth quarter points. In this series the team that wins the battle of paint points wins the game. With that in mind the Grizzlies need to win this game by getting the ball to Randolph playing thru him.
2. One of the biggest adjustments made in Game 6 was the insertion of OJ Mayo into the starting lineup for Sam Young. This adjustment was made for one reason, to help space the floor and put some pressure on the Thunder for loading up on Randolph with 2-3 men. The Grizzlies have had spacing issues all series long because Tony Allen and Sam Young do not put enough pressure on the Thunder with their perimeter shooting. Coach Lionel Hollins will utilize Mayo and Shane Battier as much as possible in Game 7 because it opens up the low post for their most important player, Zach Randolph. With Mayo and Battier on the court the Thunder cannot double team Randolph otherwise they run the risk of paying from the 3 point line with the two Grizzly shooters.
3. There is a lot of pressure on Kevin Durant’s shoulders heading into Game 7. Durant had his worst playoff performance in Game 6 scoring only 11 points. Durant scored 6 points in the first three minutes of the game but then was non existent the rest of the game.
He was out of sorts the entire second half because Tony Allen and Shane Battier worked hard to take him out of his offensive flow. They were physical with him, they denied him the ball and they double teamed him. This disrupted the Thunder offensive sets and took Durant out of any true rhythm. Kevin Durant must be in attack mode in Game 7. He cannot settle for 3 point shots, he was (1-9) in Game 6. Tony Allen and Shane Battier are going to deny Durant, and attempt to push him off his sweet spots. Durant cannot be frustrated by their efforts or give in to their defensive intensity. He must be aggressive, but patient. The Thunder need to work hard to get him the ball in his favorite locations and he must work hard to score.
The Thunder must have some answer for the double teams of Durant. The Grizzlies totally ignored Kendrick Perkins when he was in the game. Marc Gasol left Perkins to come and double Durant as far away from the basket as necessary. They totally ignored Perkins and dared the Thunder to go to him. Oklahoma City must find a way to counter this strategy by the Grizzlies. They must put Perkins in spots where they can get him the ball and he can score easily.
4. As simple as it may sounds the team that shoots the ball well will win Game 7. These two teams are very evenly matched and whoever makes shots will probably win this game. The Grizzlies must make perimeter shots to loosen up the paint for Zach Randolph. If OJ Mayo, Shane Battier, and Mike Conley can make open shots from the perimeter then Randolph will be a load to contain in the paint. If they cannot make shots then the Thunder will shrink the court, double team Randolph and their chances of winning will improve. If the Grizzlies can make shots they can win this series, if they can’t then there season will come to an end.
The Thunder went 4-25 (16%) from the 3 point line in Game 6 of this series. Kevin Durant went 1-9, Russell Westbrook went 1-5, and James Harden 2-5. In addition they only shot 11-38 (28.9%) in the second half of that game. It is very simple. If the Thunder makes shots they will win if they can’t they will lose.
5. Sometimes Game 7’s are not decided by the stars. Everyone expects Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook or Zach Randolph to be the star of the game and carry their team on their back. But watch out for the X-factor. The X-factor could be someone in the starting lineup or off the bench that plays way above his normal game. I think there are several players that have the ability to affect the outcome of Game 7. For the Grizzlies Shane Battier could affect this game with his defense on Durant and his perimeter shooting. Also Darrell Arthur is one of the most talented bench players for the Grizzlies and I could see him giving them a big scoring lift off the bench. For the Thunder the players that I think could affect the outcome would be James Harden who had a big first half in Game 6 (12 points). Harden is a big time scorer and could take some pressure off Durant and Westbrook in Game 7. In addition I think that Kendrick Perkins could have a big game. If the Grizzlies are going to leave Perkins to double team Durant look for the Thunder to find ways to get the ball to Perkins quickly to take advantage of those double teams. If Perkins could catch and finish it would make the Grizzlies think twice about leaving him to double team.
Prediction: The Thunder win Game 7.