|ESPN.com: NBA Playoffs 2011||[Print without images]|
OKLAHOMA CITY -- You can't help but wonder how much of this game was decided 48 hours earlier.
The young Oklahoma City legs felt no pain from Monday's triple-overtime thriller in Memphis, but I'm not sure the same can be said for the Grizzlies. The Thunder got a dominant effort from top to bottom Wednesday, needing little help from All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to thwack the Grizzlies 99-72 in Game 5. The victory moved the Thunder one win away from an I-35 Western Conference finals against Dallas, with a potential Game 6 clincher set for Friday in Memphis.
From top to bottom, the stat sheet screamed of superior energy from the Thunder. Most notably, this was the first time all series that Oklahoma City won more of the 50-50 balls. The gritty Grizzlies had been forcing turnovers and getting second shots all series, leading to a plus-31 advantage in possessions in the first four games, but Wednesday it was Oklahoma City that finished ahead, plus-4.
Dig deeper, and the tale is the same. The Thunder had a 20-7 edge in fast-break points, and the run-outs got easier as the game dragged on. Oklahoma City had the edge in second-chance points, 18-9. Even more shockingly, points in the paint favored the Thunder 46-42 -- Memphis led the league in that category in the regular season, while the Thunder were 25th defensively.
"We got embarrassed, rightfully," said guard Mike Conley, who had been having a fine series until Wednesday's 4-of-16 stinker. "We didn't play our style of basketball. We started turning it over and giving up offensive rebounds and doing very uncharacteristic things."
As for fatigue, the coaches' comments told the tale.
"I don't know if fatigue was a factor," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "It was not on our end."
Brooks added that his team had a lively morning shootaround earlier in the day, and why not? His crew of barely-20-somethings looked like they could have played several more overtimes at the end of Monday night's game and clearly were more than ready to play again Wednesday. Brooks could have had them run five-on-five an hour before tipoff and I doubt it would have affected them much.
The same can't be said for Memphis. Several Grizzlies were running on fumes, most notably Zach Randolph. The Grizzlies' go-to guy played 56 minutes in Game 4, contributing to his dead-legged, nine-point performance Wednesday.
"It probably was [a factor]," coach Lionel Hollins said in response to the fatigue question. "It's always better for the home team in these situations and the team that won the [last] game. Not only were we physically down, we were probably mentally down, too. I'm not making any excuses for our group but we didn't play very well."
Memphis' best chance of stealing Game 5 fizzled early, as the Grizzlies failed to convert nine Thunder first-quarter turnovers into points and paid the price later in the half when Oklahoma City began hanging on to the ball and making shots.
"Early on, when we had energy, we kept shooting ourselves in the foot," Hollins said, "by missing layups, turning the ball over in transition or not finishing in transition."
Botched Memphis transitions have been a growing trend in this series, actually, and Wednesday they were fatal. A 13-2 Oklahoma City run late in the second quarter broke open a tie game and began the avalanche, and the Grizzles never recovered.
"When the starters came back," Hollins said, "they were kind of running in mud. And it was 'Katie, bar the door' after that."
"We got down a little bit and we gave up too easily," said Marc Gasol, who was the lone Memphis player to look something like his usual self. He shook off a 57-minute outing Monday by scoring a team-high 15 points.
Unbelievably, he was the only Memphis player in double figures. Meanwhile, the Thunder again got a huge game from the bench, and this one is less easy to pin on Memphis' weariness -- aside from O.J. Mayo, the Grizzlies' subs didn't bear a heavy minutes burden in Game 4.
Yet the Thunder got 18 points in 18 minutes from Daequan Cook, and 53 points and 27 rebounds from the group -- more than the Grizzlies got from their starters. The subs were so good that at the start of the fourth quarter, they extended the lead against Memphis' starters, even with Durant and Westbrook on the bench.
The group doesn't get much attention due to the focus on Durant and Westbrook, but this is the second series in a row in which the Thunder's second unit has been a huge strength that tilted the balance in their favor.
About the only other notable development on this night was Durant finally revealing the contents of the backpack he carries to every news conference. Sadly, he doesn't use it to carry around dog-eared copies of years-old Pro Basketball Prospectus annuals; instead, he announced he carries an iPod, headphones, a Bible and a charger.
Otherwise, this game didn't have a ton of mystery. Memphis got flat-out pounded and has to recover Friday at home or its Cinderella season will come to an end. Oklahoma City has had the upper hand since Memphis picked it apart in the series opener, and one must fairly wonder whether the Grizzlies can stem what seems to be an increasing laundry list of Thunder advantages.