Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder face playoff elimination when they welcome the Memphis Grizzlies to town tonight. The Thunder won Game 1 of the series, but have lost all three games since. A win in any of the next three games would send Memphis to the first conference finals series in franchise history.
Many people wrote off the Grizzlies as serious contenders in the Western conference after they traded top player Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors. Memphis made the move because of salary cap considerations, but for many it demonstrated exactly why this franchise, which had made positive steps forward over the previous two seasons, would never be able to seriously compete against the likes of Oklahoma City, San Antonio and the two LA teams.
This powerful and character filled group has proven just about all of their doubters wrong. The Grizzlies have battled to victories playing four pretty tight games against Oklahoma City. On Monday night in Game 4, they had to find a way to get it done in overtime and they did.
Memphis may not have a ‘closer’ style offensive player, but they are scoring plenty of points because of strong joint offensive efforts. Game 4 was a prime example with big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol each picking up 23 points, while point guard Mike Conley notched 24 points. All three players are averaging 17-21 points during the 2013 NBA playoffs.
Still, it is the defense that Lionel Hollins’ team plays that has been most harsh on the Thunder. Memphis are relentless and, led by Randolph, they have made the lives of Oklahoma City’s inside players extremely unpleasant. Conley and Allen are easily the best defensive tandem on the perimeter in the NBA. The Thunder have been forced to earn every point they score during the course of this series and it has clearly been taking its toll.
The Thunder started the season, and the playoffs, expecting and targeting a return to the NBA Finals. However, since the Russell Westbrook injury in round one, that dream has just about fallen apart. Durant won’t have filled the Oklahoma City fan base with much hope when he outright admitted that the team needs its point guard to be successful. The point is obvious, but an admission from the team’s star player that effectively states that Durant isn’t able to get it done won’t fill fans with much confidence with the team’s playoff survival on the line.
Durant failed to score a single point in overtime on Monday night and has generally struggled to step up late in the fourth quarter during the series against a physical and aggressive Memphis defense. Durant and the Thunder had a great chance in Game 4. They led by eight points at the half. Serge Ibaka finally scored some points, Reggie Jackson scored, plus Nick Collison and Kevin Martin contributed 28 points from the bench.
If the Thunder are going to prolong their stay in this year’s playoffs, they will need Durant to take late shots and they will need their bench to contribute once again. Game 5 at home is an opportunity for Oklahoma City to build up some momentum. They’ve had the opportunity to win every game in this series. Durant needs to take that opportunity in Game 5.
Betting Preview: Oklahoma City (-4) vs. Memphis
These games have been tight enough, Durant is good enough and the Thunder should be desperate enough to win this game and beat the spread. Durant will make shots down the stretch and the depth of this team should be strong enough to see Oklahoma City through on home court. It’s hard to see this team breaking past Memphis in the series now, but they should give the home crowd something to cheer for on Wednesday.
The Pick: Oklahoma City (-4) [5dimes.eu]
Writer Record Against The Spread: 16-8