If you haven't been tuned into the ongoing Oklahoma City Thunder-Memphis Grizzlies series, you've been missing out.
Not only are you missing a slugfest between two title contenders, but you're out of the loop as far as some of the postseason's most intriguing storylines. Between one of the game's most underrated point guards, a one-man scoring machine and the shooting struggles of a beloved shot-blocker, the side stories are worth taking a gander at.
One Is The Loneliest Number
It's tough to go it alone. Don't believe me? Just ask Kevin Durant.
After the game's most electrifying combo guard went down with a freak knee injury, arguably the game's most offensively gifted forward had to give it a go all on his lonesome. KD is leading all scorers in the playoffs with a whopping 32.3 points per game, and considering his team finds itself in a 2-1 hole, it will need all the points it can get from Durant.
Aside from the short-term issue of losing Russell Westbrook, the Thunder now realize more than ever just how vital Westbrook is to this squad long term. While his expected return is unknown, the loss of their dynamic floor leader is a prime example that no one can go it alone in the NBA.
While the guys Kevin has around him are the furthest thing from scrubs, outside if Kevin Martin, there is nobody else who can consistently catch fire like Westbrook. If some Thunder fans didn't appreciate Russell before, it's a safe bet they appreciate him a lot more now.
Does he shoot a little too much? Yeah, of course, but any greater scorer runs the risk of overshooting when you have a score-first mentality.
While whispers of frustrated fans have alluded to Kevin Durant being too passive or not demanding the ball enough times from Westbrook, this series as it stands is his opportunity to make the biggest mark he can as the undisputed primary scoring option.
Will Kevin Durant's scoring prowess single-handedly stave off disaster for the Thunder's season, or will the loss of Mr. Westbrook be too significant?
Tune in to find out, folks.
Mike Conley Is Good...Very Good
Let's go back in time for a second and re-examine the 2007 NBA draft. Lost in the hoopla concerning Kevin Durant and Greg Oden, one of the most productive members of that class happens to be as understated now as he was back then. In an era that favors flash over substance, sometimes the quietest guy in the room gets lost in all the noise that more exciting players make.
Mike Conley's game is efficient, gimmick-less and embodies a winning brand of basketball. He is a competent defender, a great ball-handler, a good shooter and he possesses phenomenal dexterity when it comes to finishing around the basket. Plain and simple, the guy deserves a lot more credit for his team's success as of late.
No doubt, Memphis has a solid frontcourt pairing, but let's not forget the guy who is feeding them the rock and keeping the whole ship efficiently coasting. In Game 2 of this series, Mike did his best LeBron James impression when he scored 26 points, snatched 10 boards and dished nine assists en route to a 99-93 win over the Thunder. Oh yeah, he also shot a cool 50 percent from the field—incredible efficiency all around.
Here's a tip: stop sleeping on Mike and be sure to keep an eye on him in the ensuing games. You're missing out on a criminally underrated floor general.
In Need of A Surge From Serge
We already know Kevin Durant is going at it pretty much by himself, so when a key member of the squad is struggling, it makes their situation all the more difficult. Whether it's scoring, shooting or defense, Serge Ibaka is just struggling as of late.
The 6'9" Ibaka has been trying with all his might to keep Zach Randolph off the glass, and although his effort is valiant, it's apparent he is physically outmatched as far stopping Z-Bo. Even in their Game 1 victory, Randolph out-tallied him in the rebound column, and at worst, he broke even with him. Ibaka is also a combined 11-of-39 from the field in this series—absolutely atrocious for someone with a reputation for being a solid mid-range shooter.
The Grizzlies are continuing to pound the ball inside, and for a guy like Ibaka who's a little more at home stepping out and knocking down jump shots, this slow, calculating pace of play doesn't favor his talents as a player.
Ibaka absolutely has to get going, and it's more than just putting the ball in the hoop off rebounds or from the free-throw line. For the Thunder's sake, they need him to step out and knock down some shots. If he can force whoever his man happens to be—whether it's Z-Bo or another Memphis big man—to step out of the lane and contest the shot, it will open the paint up for everyone else.
For a jump-shooting team like the Thunder to lose their premier slasher in Westbrook, they can't afford someone like Ibaka to go cold for long periods as he has as of late. If Serge can give the Thunder one solid, meaningful all-around performance, it could totally shift the dynamic of the series.
Is It All Over?
More than the individual storylines, the ultimate storyline is whether or not we will witness the regression of last year's Western Conference Finals champions. Will they escape imminent elimination, or will the wounded Thunder advance to the Western Finals for another year sans their second-leading scorer?
Only time will tell, but whatever the result, we're in for a fantastic finish to what's been a bruising, bare-knuckle series.
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