Czar’s Playoff Preview: Thunder vs. Grizzlies Semifinals

The eighth seed Memphis Grizzlies surprised the San Antonio Spurs, and just about everyone except for themselves and Charles Barkley, when they knocked off the No. 1 team in the West in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The Beale Street ballers convincingly took the series 4 games to 2 thanks to a total team effort. On Sunday the gritty Griz picked up right where they left off, beating the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals. Along with the Hawks and Mavericks, Memphis was one of three lower-seeded teams to triumph in their second round openers.

The Grizzlies are hungry for another upset and confident in their ability to contend for the Championship Title. Points in the paint have proven to be a big factor for the Grizzlies in all seven playoff games so far. As in the first series, the inside presence of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph with his “old man game” was key to Memphis’ success in Game 1. The two Grizzly frontcourt-men combined for 54 points and were just too strong and too skilled for the Thunder to handle, even with the length and toughness of Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka.

The return of tenth-year vet Shane Battier to the roster has also had a tremendous impact on this young, athletic team. In fact, the last time Memphis qualified for postseason play was during the 2005-06 season, just before the former Dukie (and 2001 Naismith Player of the Year) was traded to the Houston Rockets. The Grizzlies’ defense has been outstanding so far; they held both the Spurs and Thunder well below their regular season scoring averages. Coach Lionel Hollins will want his guys to keep playing like they’ve been playing and to come out with the same type of energy, emotion and defensive presence, while taking advantage of opportunities in the paint.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are also playing excellent ball right now. The lethal one-two punch of NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant (who went for 41 points twice in round 1) and All-Star PG Russell Westbrook gave OKC the upper hand early in last week’s hardfought, physical matchup against the Denver Nuggets. Serge Ibaka stepped up and was a star on the boards, averaging 11 rebounds over the series. In fact, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka are second and third in the league in rebounding respectively in the postseason. I look forward to seeing what type of adjustments Coach Scott Brooks makes in Game 2. I expect the Thunder to limit turnovers and to improve their performance at the defensive end of the floor.

Anything is possible when you have two young groups of guys with talent, belief and desire. Tonight the Oklahoma City Thunder will look for a boost from their home crowd when they battle the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals at 9:30 PM ET.

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