Who Has Edge in OKC Thunder-Memphis Grizzlies 2nd-Round Matchup?
The Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder have two things in common: They both took down their first-round opponents in six games, and they both did so in impressive fashion.
After those two commonalities, the similarities between the two teams end.
The Grizzlies own the season series 2-1 over the Thunder, and that was with a healthy Russell Westbrook. Without Westbrook, Kevin Durant is left as the lone star in Oklahoma City. Sure, he has supporting members like Serge Ibaka and Kevin Martin, but it's certainly not the same.
The Grizzlies, on the other hand, are a "star power by committee" type of team.
They can beat you in the paint with their twin towers, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, or they can burn you on the perimeter with Mike Conley and Tony Allen.
Both are technically small-market teams, but you could argue that the Thunder have more star power with Durant running the show. In his four games without Westbrook, Durant is averaging 35.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game while shooting 51.1 percent from the field.
The only problem is that Durant put up that production playing against the Rockets, who happen to give up the third-most points per game (102.5). While Francisco Garcia spent much of the series defending him, Durant will meet a whole other monster when he goes up against Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince.
In addition to the one-on-one defense the Grizzlies will throw at Durant, Memphis plays top-notch D as a team. That means the Thunder won't be getting as many wide-open perimeter jumpers as they did against Kevin McHale's crew.
While both teams closed out their series, there's no doubt that the Grizzlies have a bit more momentum after winning four straight games to top the Clippers. Traveling to a raucous OKC crowd will certainly minimize that momentum, but as the Grizzlies showed, they can win on the road.
Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka aren't a weak frontcourt by any stretch of the imagination, but when you stack them up against the likes of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, they don't even compare.
Having a significant advantage in the paint will benefit the Grizzlies immensely on both sides of the ball, and it will allow them to control the pace of the game and slow the Thunder's transition offense down.
Another major advantage the Grizzlies have over the Thunder is their ability to win via well-balanced production.
Who Will Win This Series?
Take Game 6 against the Clippers, for example. The Grizzlies had seven of their nine players in double digits: Mike Conley (23), Zach Randolph (23), Tony Allen (19), Jerryd Bayless (18), Tayshaun Prince (11), Marc Gasol (10) and Quincy Pondexter (10).
Instead of trying to balance their production, the Thunder are forced to get Durant the ball and let him create offense for himself and his teammates with penetration.
Is he capable of dominating the Grizzlies and dropping 40-plus points?
Certainly, but the question then becomes who on the Thunder is going to carry the rest of the responsibility.
With the Grizzlies, there are seven or eight players who can add significant production. While guys like Kevin Martin and Reggie Jackson emerged in Game 6 for the Thunder, it won't be nearly as easy to score playing against the team that gives up the fewest points per game (89.3).
Riding their momentum from a dominant four-game stretch against the Clippers, the Grizzlies are in the driver's seat against the Thunder. They have all the momentum, and they aren't suffering from any injuries.
Guys like Tony Allen, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley and Keyon Dooling will pester the Thunder and get under their skin. That is where we'll see just what kind of leader Kevin Durant truly is.
Like they say in tennis—"advantage, Memphis."
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