The OKC Thunder were bitten badly by the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies in their first game of the second round of the playoffs, and are facing a very clear and present danger.
Both teams are filled with youth and talent, but only OKC has at least one superstar in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Who would have thought that the Grizzlies would eliminate the 61-win Spurs in the first round?
Who would have thought that they would come out swinging to take the first game so easily from the previously surging Thunder.
After all, the Thunder finished first in the Northwest and the Grizzlies finished fourth in the Southwest.
Kevin Durant won his second scoring title in a row with an average of 27.6 PPG, and Russell Westbrook finished 13th with 21.9 PPG.
The Grizzlies on the other hand had only one player (Zach Randolph) finish in the top 20 in league scoring (19th).
Memphis is missing the new multi-superstar blueprint of an NBA super-team, but the talent that runs through their roster is obviously there, and is far more evenly spread out.
Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are both fringe superstars and excellent post game players who are playing like superstars. Marc is outplaying his brother Pau in these playoffs, and Zach as much as ran right over Kendrick Perkins at will in game one.
The trade deadline was equally shocking for both teams who each received defensive stalwarts that were widely considered to be cornerstones of their previous teams. Kendrick Perkins was the major defensive force of the Boston Celtics, and Shane Battier was the gritty defensive force of the Houston Rockets.
And while Battier is playing like a black hole, and swallowing up players who try to run their offensive schemes past him—Perkins is underwhelming and nothing more than a mirage.
It’s no secret that Perkins flourished in Boston, but his weaknesses are being exposed by the Grizzlies, whom have both length and strength in the post—unlike the undersized Denver Nuggets that lost to OKC in the first round.
Perkins can block shots, but he’s slow and his hands are made of stone. Without the seven foot brute force of Kevin Garnett to back him up, teams that are built like the L.A. Lakers and the Memphis Grizzlies will exploit Perkins’ deficiencies.
Perkins can still run a good pick and roll and can defend his man in the post, especially with backup like Kevin Garnett there to help—but he’s not there.
It goes without saying that Kevin Durant is no Kevin Garnett—at least from a defensive perspective.
Perkins stat line in game one versus the Grizzlies was dismal and included only two points and six rebounds in 29 minutes. Four players (two from his own team) out rebounded him including Zach Randolph (10), Marc Gasol (10), Durant (11), and Serge Ibaka (11).
Significant and telling stats from game one revealed that the Thunder had 18 turnovers to the Grizzlies seven.
But the biggest and most telling stat of the game and a line that will continue to become the story of this series is that the Thunder had only 38 points in the paint to the Grizzlies 52.
Since Battier came to the Grizzlies at the trade deadline, the team has been on a tear. The gritty player who is known for not filling up the stat sheet, instead does the important and inglorious dirty work that goes a long way in helping his team win.
Battier was the missing piece that has validated the otherwise excellent pieces of this team—and it doesn’t even include Rudy Gay.
The Thunder are in desperate need for reinforcements to help counter the Grizzlies in the likes of Kevin Garnett, who would make Perkins relevant again, but no one is coming.
Consequentially, Perkins renders the Thunder ineffective against teams with both length and strong post games.
Like most kids that leave home earlier than they should, Perkins is finding out the hard way that he can only fend for himself in disparaging amounts, and not even close to as well as when Papa Garnett is there to cross his T’s and dot his I’s.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are top ten players in the NBA and can both score at will, but the rest of the roster is just not good enough to help them on their quest, especially when Perkins is capable of pulling off disappearing acts, and Memphis has a much deeper bench.
As a result, the Thunder are in over their heads and will soon be joining the San Antonio Spurs on an all inclusive cruise vacation on the unexpectedly “going south” pacific.
The Grizzlies have peaked at just the right time this season and are absolutely the real deal and have not only become dragon slayers, but they have actually become dragons themselves.
Memphis will take this series in an upset in no more than six games with five an extreme possibility.