Sunday, May 1, 2011 Updated: May 2, 12:12 PM ET
Grizzlies' offense overwhelms OKC
By John Hollinger ESPN.com
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Maybe the San Antonio Spurs aren't too old, too slow or too unathletic.
Maybe the Memphis Grizzlies are just really, really good.
It look less than 48 hours for that revisionist view of history to come to the fore, after Memphis followed Friday's upset of the top-seeded Spurs with a 114-101 pounding of the Thunder on Sunday afternoon in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series. Game 2 is Tuesday in Oklahoma City.
What stood out was not just what they did, but how they did it. The Grizzlies simply overwhelmed the home side with their rare combination of brute force, precision passing and scrambling defense, racing out to a double-digit lead in the first half and never suffering a serious threat thereafter. Much like the San Antonio series, there was nothing whatsoever about this game that felt like an upset.
If you're not familiar with these Grizzlies, take another look at the second half of their season: Memphis went 27-11 in its final 38 games before tanking the last two. Throw in the seven playoff games and their record is 32-13 in more than half a season; that's a 58-win pace. Even after losing star forward Rudy Gay for the season, they barely lost a step.
The big surprise on this evening, however, was how badly the Grizzlies dominated Oklahoma City on the offensive end of the floor. Memphis got here as a defensive team, leading the league in forced turnovers and bullying the top-ranked Spurs' offense into submission in the first round of the playoffs.
But their ironclad defense was just OK today. Instead, it was Zach Randolph's low-post dominance (34 points and 10 rebounds), Marc Gasol's precision finishing (9-of-11 for 20 points) and Mike Conley's ball protection (no turnovers, only eight for the team) that ruled the day. Memphis scored at least 27 points in every quarter and rolled up 114 points on just 94 trips, a stellar 120.2 offensive efficiency mark.
"Our offense was actually carrying us early on," Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said, "with Zach as our offensive force. Along the game our defense caught up."
"We're so used to the methodical pace of the Spurs series," forward Shane Battier said. "We were really able to push the pace and get some easy baskets. We're better off as a team when we attack early."
Memphis also pounded the Thunder on the offensive glass, earning 17 offensive rebounds and compiling 22 second-chance points. Seven different Grizzlies players accumulated offensive boards, with perhaps none being more important than a hot-potato, flat-footed putback by Battier after the Thunder had cut a 17-point lead to seven midway through the fourth quarter. That was as close as the hosts would get.
"I'm just trying to get it on the rim," Battier said. "With these guys, Zach, Marc, I just try to get it up there. [Serge] Ibaka was coming so I had to get it off."
The offensive boards were part of a larger story. Possession is nine-tenths of the law, as they say, and on this afternoon it was nine-tenths of the game. Oklahoma City had 18 turnovers to just eight for Memphis, and the Grizzlies also had one more offensive rebound. That translates to 11 extra possessions in a 13-point game, explaining nearly the entire difference on the scoreboard.
Randolph, of course, was the key. He was impossible for the Thunder to contain in four regular-season meetings, three of which the Grizzlies won, but the hope was that the trade that rebuilt the Thunder's front line would make Oklahoma City more capable of containing him. On this night, however, their efforts were just as fruitless.
"He's a relentless offensive machine," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks before the game, and his words proved prophetic. Whether floating in rain-making faceup jumpers that barely touched the net as they went through, pounding it in closer to the basket or finding cutters with a new zest for passing, Randolph owned this game from the opening tip. The Thunder tried Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison on him, and none of them were effective.
"You cannot stop him," said Kevin Durant, who was no slouch himself with 33 points. "He's one of the greatest power forwards in the league."
Moreover, the fear of Randolph enabled Gasol to have a big game, too. Any time the Grizzlies ran a high pick-and-roll with Conley and Gasol, the pocket pass to Gasol at the free throw line was wide open because Randolph's defender on the block was so reluctant to leave him.
"Of course they're going to try to collapse the paint," Gasol said. "Most teams play us like that. Not many [centers] are going to pop to that area.
"Mike did a great job of getting into the paint, and finding me rolling or with the little pocket pass for the shot. We just did a good job of moving the ball and being unselfish."
The scariest part for Oklahoma City is that the Grizzlies didn't do anything particularly special to achieve this result.
"We'll just play with our schemes and concepts like it's a regular-season game," Hollins said beforehand.
He had little choice. Having had only 36 hours to prepare after clinching a first-ever series win with Friday's win over San Antonio (or less, if you subtract celebration time, of which the Memphis players most certainly partook) and just a brief walkthrough on Saturday before flying in, Memphis didn't change up anything from how it normally plays.
"I think the schedule actually helped us," Battier said. "We felt so good after the Spurs game we just wanted to keep playing. That's the beauty of this team -- we just like to play."
With three more performances like this, they'll get to play for a lot longer than anybody outside West Tennessee expected.