Grizzlies' Efficiency in OT Win Proves Only Near Perfection Can Beat OKC Thunder

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 22, 2014

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The Memphis Grizzlies can absolutely pull off the first-round upset over the Oklahoma City Thunder. All it'll take is three more games of nearly flawless basketball.

That's what it took for the Grizz to escape with a 111-105 overtime win in Game 2 on Monday.

Memphis, offensively challenged all season, flirted with the kind of shooting numbers typically reserved for the NBA's most proficient snipers. On the night, the Grizzlies hit 49.4 percent of their shots from the field, 40 percent of their triples and 87.5 percent from the foul line.

In other words, they shot the ball like Dirk Nowitzki as a team.

In addition to uncharacteristic marksmanship, Memphis controlled the pace effectively by limiting turnovers (it committed just nine in 53 minutes of action) and getting back in transition. Oklahoma City managed just 16 fast-break points altogether.

Granted, a couple of inexplicably poor timeouts by Thunder head coach Scott Brooks kept OKC's thoroughbreds from sprinting out when the action got scattered. But for the most part, Memphis did well to corral its dangerously athletic foes.

Kevin Durant went off for a game-high 36 points, and Russell Westbrook chipped in 29 of his own, but the Grizzlies did as well as could be expected against the Thunder's unstoppable duo. KD and Russ got their points, but few came easily. Combined, they went just 23-of-56 from the field.

Toss in some timely shooting from Mike Miller, a truly brilliant all-around effort from Tony Allen and an out-of-nowhere 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting from Beno Udrih, and you've got your recipe for a nearly perfect Grizzlies effort.

Yet, for all that, Memphis needed overtime to secure the win.

That's because the Thunder are a terrifyingly good team, one that tops out at a gear no other contender can match. Albeit only in spurts, OKC showed off its force-of-nature aggression and breathtaking speed, highlighted by a Westbrook dunk that nearly caused a riot.

The Thunder rarely lose the hustle battle—thanks largely to Westbrook's relentless energy—and Durant's unparalleled shot-making skills generally leave opponents wondering if there are different laws of physics set aside specially for him.

Such was the case on Monday, with Durant getting up to his usual cold-blooded tricks:

The Thunder even got an unlikely bucket from the unlikeliest source—at a crucial juncture, no less:

Look, it's not a revelation to say OKC is tough to beat. We saw many of the reasons why in Game 2. The Grizzlies stood up to those reasons with a truly brilliant performance, and it was just barely enough.

So, can Memphis build on this effort? Can it possibly hope to string together another trio of wins with this kind of unblemished ball?

Your first reaction should be a skeptical one.

The Grizzlies aren't going to shoot like this often. On the season, Memphis shot 46.4 percent from the field, 35.3 percent from long distance and 74.1 percent from the line. Its offense ranked just 16th in the league, per, and guys like Udrih and Allen won't often combine for 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting.

Apr 21, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen (9) reacts to a call in action against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the fourth quarter in game two during the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Man

Even if the Thunder are uniquely vulnerable against the three, Memphis doesn't have the long-range prowess necessary to take advantage of that weakness. It shot the fewest triples in the NBA this year by a hefty margin, per Death from distance just isn't in the Grizzlies' DNA.

And for all of its surprising efficiency from beyond the arc in Game 2, the volume wasn't there. Memphis attempted just 10 threes on the night.

To their credit, the Grizzlies know who they are. They're not going to assume another offensive effort like this is in the cards.

Even if its great shooting isn't sustainable, Memphis has too many rugged series wins on its resume to count it out. Any time a team notches a road win in Oklahoma City, no matter how perfect it had to be to do it, there's reason to take notice.

Remember, too, this Thunder team suffered a knockout in last year's playoffs at the hands (paws?) of the Grizzlies, so there could be some latent fear bubbling up after this latest defeat.

Memphis is a very good team. We learned that during its solid regular season.

But it probably can't expect perfection three more times over the next five games against the Thunder. And here's the scary thing: Even if the Grizzlies muster a few more impeccable performances, we know the Thunder only need to be a little better than they were on Monday to win.

Apr 21, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) dunks the ball against the Memphis Grizzlies during the fourth quarter in game two during the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandator

In other words, OKC's "pretty good" might still be better than Memphis' perfection.

Sometimes, the NBA isn't fair.