The déjà vu series continued for the Grizzlies last night, as they lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder 111-102.
If Game 1 in this second-round series was reminiscent of Game 1 in the first-round series against the San Antonio Spurs — only better — then Game 2 in OKC was reminiscent of Game 2 in San Antonio — only worse.
In both series, the Grizzlies have stolen homecourt advantage on the strength of dominating play from frontcourt tandem Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol — who combined for 49 points on 19-25 shooting in Game 1 against the Spurs and 54 points on 21-33 shooting in Game 1 against the Thunder.
And now, in both cases, opponents have come back strong in desperation Game 2s with better focus and effort in stopping the Grizzlies' interior duo, which fell off sharply with only 23 points on 7-23 shooting against the Spurs and 28 points on 5-22 shooting last night in Oklahoma City.
Adjustments and counter-adjustments made, those first two games in San Antonio ended up being the most and least productive games of the series for Randolph/Gasol. I'm betting that pattern holds in this series as well.
With the Thunder's harassing, help defense operating at a much greater pinch of intensity, Randolph and Gasol were much less effective in the paint — going from 9-15 on interior shots in Game 1 to 4-14 last night. But the biggest difference was on the perimeter. In Game 1, the Grizzlies big punished the Thunder with superb mid-range shooting, hitting on 11-17 on baseline (Randolph) and free-throw-line (Gasol) jumpers. I wrote in my Game 1 reaction piece that this probably wasn't sustainable — and it wasn't. But the duo's 1-8 mid-range shooting in Game 2 will likely be an even greater outlier as the series progresses.
But diminished frontcourt production wasn't the sole cause for the loss. Randolph and Gasol's lax scoring opened the door for OKC, but two other factors pushed them through:
The Grizzlies are not going to stop Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook from scoring. The goal is to limit touches (for Durant) and efficiency (for Westbrook in particular). And in both games, the Grizzlies have "held" this duo to manageable level of production: 62 points on 20-44 shooting with 10 turnovers in Game 1, 50 points on 17-38 shooting with 6 turnovers in Game 2.
Westbrook and Durant can get their 50-60, but with a lack of interior scorers, the Thunder needs to get secondary scoring from their bench shooters. That didn't happen in Game 1, with James Harden, Eric Maynor, and Daquan Cook combining for a mere 11 points on 3-11 shooting. In Game 2, this trio scored 41 points on 13-19. As with the Gasol/Randolph duo, you have to suspect that Thunder bench scoring in both of these games will look like outliers as the series goes on.
This was perhaps the difference maker — the thing that kept the Grizzlies from having a real chance at winning despite so much else going wrong. The Grizzlies need to mitigate the Thunder's better shooting by getting extra possessions on the offensive boards and via turnover differential.
The Grizzlies were +6 on the offensive boards last night, but after significantly winning the turnover battle in Game 1 (16-7), it was even in Game 2 (16-16). And two turnovers in particular stymied the team's chances at comebacks in the fourth quarter:
Early in the fourth quarter, down 13, the Grizzlies showed a bit of life: O.J. Mayo hit a three to cut the deficit to 10 then Zach Randolph blocked a lay-up attempt by Nick Collison. Coming back down the floor, Shane Battier hit a wing three-pointer that appeared to cut the deficit down to 7, but the shot was negated by an offensive foul on Darrell Arthur. The Thunder responded with an Eric Maynor three to push their lead back to 13.
A few minutes later, the Thunder had built their lead up to 21 and the game looked over. But an 11-2 Grizzlies run brought it down to 12 with just over four minutes to play and kept some hope alive. The Grizzlies kept pecking away until, with 1:16 to play, down 8 (96-104), Randolph blocked a Durant shot, corralled the ball, and had Tony Allen out ahead of the defense in transition. An Allen lay-up would have made it a six-point game with at least three possessions left, but Randolph over-threw the ball and it sailed out of bounds. Game over.
The Grizzlies have a long break now — three days — to make counter-adjustments, get rest, and get re-focused for a pair of sure-to-be raucous home games Saturday and Monday. Barring unforeseen developments, I'm going to be setting the series aside for the next couple of days to get other work done. But I'm planning on being at practice on Friday and will begin a big, long weekend of series coverage both on this space and for next week's print edition of the Flyer.