Thunder vs. Grizzlies: 7 Adjustments the Grizzlies Can Make To Even the Series
Let's briefly recap the series thus far.
Game 1 saw the Grizzlies catch the Thunder off guard a bit with a 114-101 victory behind Zach Randolph's 34 points. Game 2 saw the Thunder bounce back with a 111-102 victory with the bench contributing 48 points.
Game 3 saw a massive Grizzlies comeback from double digits and a victory in overtime. Late in regulation Russell Westbrook over dribbled and took several tough shots. An adjustment Lionel Hollins made was to put OJ Mayo on Russell Westbrook. Mayo did a solid job on Westbrook.
In Game 4, two words: instant classic.
In Game 5, the Thunder staved off their fatigue better than the Grizzlies did in a 99-72 rout. The Grizzlies shot 35 percent and missed several layups and open jumpers.
Grit and grind must be shown tonight in order for Memphis to win. They must ignore the fatigue from the previous 11 playoff games they have played. It is also not easy to make any new adjustments late in a series, especially if you have tried just about everything. As a Grizzlies fan, here are seven solutions Coach Lionel Hollins can employ.
Start OJ Mayo in Place of Sam Young
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Rudy Gay's absence has meant one startling truth for Memphis, no perimeter scoring. Sam Young is a great defender and excellent slasher. However the lane gets way too clogged up for the post players whenever Tony Allen and Sam Young are in at the same time.
Starting Mayo would enable Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol to have more space in the block. It would also give Memphis another ball-handler on the break. Watching Tony Allen handling the ball on the fast break makes me wonder if the Monstars from Space Jam stole his game. Allen can focus on guarding Kevin Durant while Mayo and Conley can handle the ball.
On offense, Mayo can hit the outside shot and handle the ball. His athleticism is very underrated and he can create his own shot. On defense he can adequately guard Russell Westbrook. Shutting down Westbrook is easier said than done, so all Mayo needs to do is to make it difficult for him to get his shots. Preferably Westbrook shoots more than Durant.
Sam Young can come off the bench with the second unit guards of Greivis Vasquez and Shane Battier. Young has the physicality and length to bother Thunder sixth man James Harden and can guard Westbrook or Durant for stretches. This also presents a more balanced second unit with Young's slashing ability (and excellent pump fake) and Battier's all-around game.
Give Hamed Haddadi More Minutes When Kendrick Perkins Is in
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Hamed Haddadi is a man with a unique story. He is the only Iranian-born NBA player in history. He is 7'3" and has decent post moves. Memphis signed him a few years ago as a developmental player and he has not disappointed. He outplayed second-overall pick Hasheem Thabeet (who was traded for Shane Battier) and has found a niche as a backup center in case of emergency.
Tonight is an emergency.
Thunder posts Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Nazr Muhammad have killed Memphis on the boards in the games the Grizzlies lost. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol cannot play all 48 minutes. Well they can but it wouldn't be a good idea. Haddadi can guard Kendrick Perkins while patrolling the lane on both ends.
All Lionel Hollins needs to tell him is he has six fouls to use. He can give Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol a break early on to combat the Thunder's length inside. Expect him to make an impact on the defensive end with his length.
Moreover he can stop James Harden from looking like a reincarnation of Michael Jordan by blocking his shots.
Was that a blasphemous statement? Was Haddadi blocking Harden's shots blasphemy or that other thing I said?
Run a Triangle and Two on Durant and Westbrook To Start the Game
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I am not under any delusions. This is a crazy suggestion that would get me fired if it failed.
Let's look at the Thunder's starting lineup: Russell Westbrook (PG), Thabo Sefolosha (SG), Kevin Durant (SF), Serge Ibaka (PF), Kendrick Perkins (C).
Is there any consistent offensive options outside of Durant and Westbrook? I don't think so.
Now this defense should not be run for too long. When Harden comes in for Sefolosha, immediately switch to man.
Here is how I would run this junk defense. Put Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol down low on the blocks. Allow Perkins and Ibaka to shoot mid-range shots. Ibaka is not as good of a shooter as he thinks he is. But to be fair to Ibaka that goes for 100 percent of NBA players. Thabo Sefolosha has shot 14.3 percent from behind the arc in this series.
Gasol and Randolph must carry the load on the glass and patrol the paint. Mike Conley can be up top of the zone closing out on any perimeter activity and possibly double teaming Durant or Westbrook. Tony Allen would totally deny Kevin Durant the ball. He has the athleticism and the defensive aptitude to fight through the numerous screens. OJ Mayo picks up Westbrook at half court.
The key to this defense is Randolph and Gasol communicating to the two guys playing man about screens and where the ball is at. This defense should not be run for longer than the first six minutes of either the first or third quarter. Perhaps throw this wrinkle in if the Thunder are on fire.
Run the "O" Defense on Russell Westbrook in the 4th Quarter
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The "O" defense is pretty simple. There was this one star player named O (real name undisclosed) on a team that my team played. He was an excellent point guard who could get to any spot on the court. He drew fouls and never missed his free throws. His game is somewhat similar to Russell Westbrook.
In order to slow down O, we installed this defense in the regional finals. Initially the quickest player on our team out there would pick O up full court. This wore down O and it gave him something extra to think about. Once O would cross half court, the defender would switch with another defender. The defender picking him up at half court was longer and could bother O's court vision and shot.
Replace O with Russell Westbrook and you have the idea. Have Mike Conley or even OJ Mayo pick him up full court. Once the timing is right and Westbrook gets to half court, immediately switch Conley or Mayo with a longer defender like Sam Young, Tony Allen or even Shane Battier. What this defense would do is to slow down Westbrook while giving the primary defender on Westbrook (Mayo or Young) a semi-break.
Now the only drawback to this switch is the guy who they switch off of must be accounted for. James Harden is too dangerous a man to be left open. So Mike Conley must sprint to Harden as the other defender comes up to play Westbrook. Remember the third wing is face-guarding Durant, so that switch must be perfect or else it's a five on four. Perhaps throw in a trap as well to keep Westbrook and the Thunder off-balance.
Note: with Harden too dangerous to leave open, I suggest you use it when Sefolosha is out there.
Put Greivis Vasquez on Kevin Durant
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This is not entirely a crazy suggestion.
Greivis Vasquez and Kevin Durant were not only teammates at Montrose Christian School but close friends. OJ Mayo attributes his familiarity with Russell Westbrook to his defensive success.
Why not put Greivis Vasquez on Kevin Durant? He has enough size and speed to at least keep up with Durant. Vasquez's familiarity with Durant can only help him in his quest to contain the NBA scoring champion. Vasquez does not need to guard Durant for too long. With that said if Tony Allen and Shane Battier get in foul trouble, Vasquez might as well be an option.
Continue to Work It Inside
Above all else, stick to what got you here. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol need the ball early and often. It is difficult because the Thunder have a very strong interior defense. Kevin Durant can also block shots from the perimeter.
However, it is no secret Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka are both foul-prone. Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammad are excellent defenders but can Collison stay out of foul trouble guarding Randolph?
I would make sure there is enough space for Randolph to get the ball inside. Wing players and even Mike Conley must cut hard to the basket. OJ Mayo has got to hit at least 40 percent of his threes in order to free up the paint. Mike Conley has also got to hit his mid-range jump shots when the Thunder bigs go under the screens.
Remember Memphis grit and grind.
Speed the Tempo of the Game and Force More Turnovers
The one thing the Grizzlies failed to do in Game 5 is to get out on the open court. The Thunder beat the Grizzlies to almost every loose ball.
In order to do that the Grizzlies must beat the Thunder to the ball and get defensive rebounds. We also need a lot of steals from Mike Conley and Tony Allen. OJ Mayo needs to hit some transition threes to get the crowd going.
As for the second unit, Darrell Arthur and Sam Young are both terrors on the break. Greivis Vasquez is not afraid to throw up an alley-oop to these guys. Shane Battier can also run the court and hit spot-up threes. Hamed Haddadi can at least block shots to start the break. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol may not be speedsters but their outlet passes can start the break. Mike Conley is the second fastest player on the court behind Russell Westbrook. OJ Mayo also thrives in transition.
After scoring a measly 72 points in Game 5, the Grizzlies must get out and run in order to wear out Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. Slowing down the game only favors the isolation-happy Thunder and Russell Westbrook.
Use the Magical Soccer Stuff Cure on Rudy Gay's Shoulder
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Why not? You might as well try to miraculously cure Rudy Gay in time for tonight's game.
He can fill that perimeter scoring void the Grizzlies desperately need filled. It also makes Kevin Durant or James Harden invest heavily on the defensive end.
I understand there aren't too many adjustments either team can make going into tonight's game. I realize not all of these suggestions are permanent remedies for the Grizzlies' problems. But these suggestions can give the Thunder a set of new problems.
Remember when Phoenix looked dead out of the water in last year's playoffs but went to a zone? It all changed once it got back to Phoenix. Although the Suns lost the series, their zone defense caused the Lakers fits throughout the series.
Thanks for reading!