After a strong defensive outing in Game 3, the Memphis Grizzlies took a 2-1 series lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder and now have a chance to put a stranglehold on the series in Game 4 Monday.
The series has been a low-scoring one, thereby favoring Memphis' preferred style of play. On Thursday, Lionel Hollins got just enough production from Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Tony Allen to outlast the Thunder.
Despite its rebounding success, Oklahoma City has several maladies to remedy, including the shooting woes of Serge Ibaka and the lack of facilitating from the supporting cast. Memphis will make life tough for the Thunder, but Scott Brooks' bunch will be equally determined to earn a road win to even the series.
How will each team approach this pivotal game, and which club will be smiling on the way back to OKC?
Game 4 Time: Monday, May 13, 9:30 p.m. ET
Where: FedExForum, Memphis, Tenn.
Series Record: 2-1 Grizzlies
Game 4 Key Storyline: Can Oklahoma City Dig Themselves Out? Must-Win Scenario
Even though OKC notched 23 fast-break points, 51 rebounds and 44 points in the paint, it didn't come away with the Game 3 victory.
Why? Offensive inefficiency and lack of execution in crunch time.
The Thunder had more turnovers (12) than assists (10), and shot 36.4 percent from the field. That's not a good recipe for a road win, so adjustments must be made. Memphis wasn't a model of offensive brilliance in Game 3, but the Grizzlies brought their usual defensive toughness, and they'll bring it again in Monday night.
The question is whether OKC can get enough production outside of Durant. He was the only player to notch more than two assists, as he's the only player who can survey the floor while operating with the ball.
A combination of Tayshaun Prince and Tony Allen was able to slow down Durant enough to force other Thunder players into shots.
It's imperative for Serge Ibaka to find his offensive rhythm. His 6-of-17 shooting performance makes him 12-of-39 (30.7 percent) for the series. The much-improved outside shooting he was lauded for throughout the year has been nonexistent the past week.
There's no room for error for either squad. Memphis doesn't want to head back to Oklahoma City tied 2-2, and the Thunder certainly don't want to go down 3-1.
Series Star So Far: Kevin Durant
The Durantula is unquestionably the star and best player in the series, as he leads all players in points (32.0 per game), rebounds (12.3) and assists (6.7).
Game 3 was considered a so-so game for him, but he still shot 47.4 percent, scored 25 and grabbed 11 boards.
His two missed free throws in the final minute prevented the Thunder from drawing within one possession of the Grizzlies, so he'll be under the microscope in the clutch Monday ngiht. Durant is the most sure-handed free-tosser in the game, so it shouldn't be an issue moving forward. But if he does happen to miss late again, it will be a big deal.
It will be interesting to see if he can break loose at all against Prince or Allen, because all it could take is a couple of quick outbursts for him to push OKC to 95-100 points.
If his jumper is smooth and his decision-making is sound, it's going to be up to his comrades to meet him halfway.
Projected Starting Lineups
Oklahoma City: Reggie Jackson, PG; Thabo Sefolosha, SG; Kevin Durant, SF; Serge Ibaka, PF; Kendrick Perkins, C
Memphis: Mike Conley, PG; Tony Allen, SG; Tayshaun Prince, SF; Zach Randolph, PF; Marc Gasol, C
Thunder Injury Report (via CBSSports.com )
Russell Westbrook (knee), out for season
Grizzlies Injury Report
No injuries reported.
Thunder Will Win If...
Reggie Jackson can create and Serge Ibaka can hit outside shots.
Oklahoma City has relied heavily on Durant to pick up the slack when Russell Westbrook went down, but it also turned to Jackson for playmaking.
He enjoyed stretches of success in the Houston Rockets series, including an eight-assist outing in Game 6. But he has yet to create substantially for his teammates against the Grizzlies.
Jackson can make plays in the open floor and has been dangerous in transition lately, but he needs to execute in the half court. He must use his athleticism to draw help defense and find the open man.
Ibaka, on the other hand, must find his shot one way or another.
If he can get a few put-backs and shots in the paint to fall early, it could help fuel his mid-range game. OKC can't afford for him to shoot 6-of-17 again. A 7-of-12 or 8-of-12 night is a realistic goal.
Grizzlies Will Win If...
They continue to defend and get Zach Randolph going.
Defensively, Memphis fans can't ask for much better. The only area that needs to get cleaned up is the defensive glass, as OKC snatched 14 offensive boards in Game 3.
From a matchup standpoint, Hollins' unit is doing quite well against each Thunder attacker. The Grizzlies are also strong collectively, rotating efficiently and providing plenty of help defense in the paint.
As long as they keep that up and limit the turnovers and transition scenarios, they will be in good shape.
When they have the ball, it's imperative for them to achieve balance and let Conley make good decisions. Gasol dropped 20 in Game 3, but they can't count on that kind of production on a nightly basis.
That's where Conley and Randolph come in.
Conley needs to be an efficient quarterback, taking what the defense gives him, including jump shots. Ideally, Hollins would like him to attack, get the defense off balance and find Randolph in good position.
Randolph was effectively guarded by Ibaka for most of Game 3, and Memphis doesn't want him to post another single-digit night in Game 4. If he can score 18 to 24 to go along with Gasol's 15 to 20, Memphis can win this in the low 90s.
Memphis was fortunate to pull out Saturday's win, and that's on a night when Oklahoma City shot 27.8 percent from distance. The Thunder will likely get a few more shots to fall Monday, including key free throws.
Kevin Martin and Serge Ibaka combined to connect on just 12-of-34 from the field in Game 3, but that will change in Game 4.
Why? Because Kevin Durant will raise his game, attack with purpose and poise, and find them better shots. And then they'll do their part to finish the plays.
Defensively, the Thunder have played well as a whole in this series. It's impressive considering Westbrook, their lethal perimeter stopper, is out.
More of that defense, plus an efficiency upgrade offensively, will lead to a Thunder W.
Prediction: Thunder 94, Grizzlies 91
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