NBA Playoffs > Westbrook Gets The Point, Thunder Advance To West Finals

 

~ For the Oklahoma City Thunder, it took seven games to get done. They took out the Memphis Grizzlies to advance to the Western Conference finals. The Thunder now head to Dallas for Game 1 against a well rested Mavs team. To become a championship team, adversity must be taken on and there is no way around that. The Thunder needed game seven to happen for them to take the next step. The next step to not only reach the next round, to also grow as a team that is now eight wins away from playing for an NBA championship.

This was a great series and the Memphis Grizzlies deserve to be applauded for the run they put on in this post season. They came in as the 8th seed, new to the playoffs and looked like they have been playing playoff basketball for years. Zach Randolph took full advantage of the national spotlight this series provided. One look at this Grizzlies team and I can only wonder what would have been had Rudy Gay been healthy enough to play. Memphis grinded it out with a blue-collar work ethic on the court that the uptempo, run and gun Western Conference was not prepared for. It almost took the Grizzlies into the next round. When it mattered most though, they needed another scorer on the floor, and thats where Gay would’ve came in hand. We’ll now see how they go about preparing for next season because they are no longer the unknown playoff team now. The expectations will definitely be set.

 

The playoffs are now down to four teams. No Lakers, Celtics, or Spurs. It’s a brand new show this year with new and younger faces. That means growing pains are to be expected. The Thunder are a young team, fresh faces, and the talent to win an NBA title this year. They have the 1-2 punch of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. In a era where teams are rushing to put together their own versions of “The Big 3”, the Thunder are a throwback to the playoff teams that featured a big time scorer for a big man and a point guard who could drop 40 points if called on. However, this team needed adversity to challenge them. Westbrook is really a scoring guard who is playing the point guard position. A look back at the most recent “scoring guards” in NBA history and you already know where the storyline is going to go …

“SHOOT THE J’ … SHOOT IT!!!”

During Oklahoma City’s 1st round series against Denver and throughout the series against Memphis, Westbrook’s shot selection became a national headline. If Durant is the face of the team, why is Westbrook taking more shots than him? There was a stretch where everytime Westbrook brought the basketball up the court, it could be predicted that he was going to shoot first and ask questions last. History has a way of repeating itself. The Minnesota Timberwolves had a young 1-2 punch back in the day and basketball fans know what happened to that duel. The point guard / “scoring guard” Stephon Marbury became “Starbury” and Kevin Garnett didn’t exactly want to share his nickname as “The Big Ticket”. Marbury ended up being traded away and Garnett eventually won his NBA ring … with the Boston Celtics.

Westbrook and Durant made it clear to the media and fans that there is no beef between the two. Durant has come out and said that he actually encourages Westbrook to keep shooting. However, if the playoffs have shown anything this year it’s how important the point guard position is to a team’s title hopes. Here are the Thunder now in game seven, one loss away from elimination and Westbrook clearly had to make a choice. Play within the system or go against the system. He went with the system and at least for one day was the most dangerous point guard in the league. Westbrook didn’t score 40 points … he only scored 14. It was the 14 assists and 10 rebounds to go along with those points that made him the key to sending Memphis home for the summer. He became only the 5th player to register a game seven triple-double.

What Westbrook’s game did allow for Durant to do was what’s expected of him and that’s score, 39 points to be exact. The facts are the facts at the end of the day. Westbrook played in control, within the system and got his team involved in the offensive flow. It allowed for Durant to go off for 39. It allowed for James Harden and Nick Collison as role players to play their parts. The Thunder are tough to beat when they play like this. It remains to be seen how they respond to a well rested Dallas team that has been waiting over a week to play this series. A lot will depend on Westbrook and if he is ready to embrace what it takes to lead his team more as a point guard than a “scoring guard”. At least they are now a playoff team that has faced adversity head on and know now that they can overcome it.

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Memphis-OKC / NBA Playoffs > Why The Memphis Grizzlies Could Win The West

 

~ While watching Game 1 of the 2nd round series between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Oklahoma City Thunder, I came away with this conclusion… the Grizzlies are the real deal. This isn’t exactly news anymore to basketball fans. They took it to the top seeded San Antonio Spurs in round 1, taking them out in 6 games. This is the 8th seeded team in the west doing this. Every now and then in the NBA Playoffs, a low seeded team will come along and steal a 1st round series and some headlines. I’m always curious to see how they come out to play in the next round. I look to see if that team comes out flat after riding the high of a 1st round victory that some didn’t think they’d get. Quite frankly, the Grizzlies came out against the Thunder ready to play and  punched them right in the mouth. This isn’t just a 8th seeded team that is making a little noise in the playoffs. The way things are shaping up this year, Memphis could find themselves playing in June for an NBA Championship.

 Many considered what the Grizzlies did to the Spurs as an upset. I didn’t share that same thought process. Memphis wanted the Spurs in the 1st round, they knew how well they matched up with them. The Spurs were just an example of why you can’t really hold stock in regular season win-loss records. What we are also seeing right now is that if you look at the Grizzlies as a team, they are built for a strong playoff run. They matched up well with the Spurs and they match up just as well with the Thunder. It’s an old school Eastern Conference Playoff team playing in the west. Defense and big time play from the go-to guys wins championships. They beat you with big time play in the frontcourt with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. They get leadership from players like Tony Allen and Shane Battier. OJ Mayo is maturing before our eyes and they almost traded him away this year. This is not the team you want to lose Game 1 to on your home court.

A sub plot has emerged in the playoff run of the Thunder and that is the inconsistent play of Russell Westbrook at the point guard position. His shot selection and decision making throughout the post season so far has been borderline at best. What is even more troublesome is Westbrook’s dominating of the ball has come at the expense of more shots for Kevin Durant. Westbrook is an explosive offensive weapon for OKC and the 1-2 punch with Durant is why the Thunder are strong contenders for the Finals this year. However Westbrook is also the point guard. Durant is the franchise player and Westbrook has to do a better job of making that clear on the court. The reality is that if Durant is option 1, Westbrook is option 1A, and it remains to be seen if Westbrook is really okay with that. While the Thunder continue to build their playoff resume’s, it will be a point of interest to see if the Durant-Westbrook combo becomes just as good or better as Stocton-Malone of Utah. It has the potential to also become Marbury-Garnett of Minnesota. That would be a major problem for the Thunder.

 Charles Barkley recently made a great point on the overall outlook of the Grizzlies. They are a deep team. Denver became a deep team after the Carmelo Anthony trade. However they didn’t have a go-to closer and that cost them in the playoffs. The Grizzlies are a deep team … with a closer. Randolph is playing the best ball of his career right now and the Gizzlies in the frontcourt are having their way in these games.

 It’s also hurting the Thunder that they don’t have that third scorer right now. There is no Jeff Green this year and maybe that has contributed to the Westbrook’s poor shot selection at times. It might be a good time to get Nate Robinson involved in this series. Robinson may provide that extra shot of energy that might be missing from the Thunder right now. What is apparent right now though is that major adjustments will have to be made by OKC to beat the Grizzlies in Game 2. It’s a statement game in every sense of the word for the Thunder if they want to win this series. 

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