Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Next Day Notes, Game 2: Grizzlies 111, Thunder 105

Posted By on Tue, Apr 22, 2014 at 7:20 AM

Zach Randolph broke through last night, putting up 25 points.

Well, that was a much different outcome than the last one. In what was certain to be yet another Instant Classic playoff game between these two teams, the Grizzlies stole one in Oklahoma City last night, swinging home court advantage in the series back to Memphis and heading home for Thursday's Game 3 with the series tied 1-1. Thanks to a (relatively rare) Kendrick Perkins putback at the buzzer of regulation, they even needed extra time to do it.

First things first, though: Dave Joerger started Tayshaun Prince again in Game 2, but I can't beat him up for it too much, because his clever use of lineups was a big reason the Grizzlies came up winners last night. Led by Beno Udrih, who stepped up from "Nick Calathes' backup" to "Oh hey this guy has two championship rings" last night with 14 points on 8 shots in 14 minutes of play, the Griz bench—a key to the team's success for much of the season, but a non-factor in Game 1—came up big, with Joerger essentially using a 9-man rotation of the Usual Suspects as starters, Tony Allen, Mike Miller, Udrih, and Ed Davis. (Kosta Koufos came in at the very end of OT when Marc Gasol fouled out, but didn't play enough to be a factor in the game's outcome).

What got the Grizzlies out ahead, and what gave them a big enough lead that Kevin Durant's 4th-quarter ridiculousness only tied the game instead of winning it for the Thunder, was the use of a super-small-ball lineup featuring Mike Miller as the power forward. The small lineup of guards running all over the place stretched the OKC defense in such a way that the floor finally opened up for the Grizzlies' offense in a way it hadn't yet in the series.

I'm not sure what it is about these two teams that makes almost every game a close one, but it makes for great playoff basketball. The Clippers may be the Grizzlies' rivals in a WWE sense—they're the heel at the Grindhouse, filling the whole room with bad vibes and getting chippy enough for Z-Bo to start choke-slamming folks—but the Griz/Thunder matchups (this is their third playoff series against each other in four years, remember) make for better basketball. The matchup of styles, coupled with Tony Allen's unmatched ability to actually defend Kevin Durant (to the extent possible) brings out the best in both teams, but last night it brought out more "best" in the Grizzlies than it did in the Thunder, and thankfully we've now got a real series on our hands, coming back to Memphis for what promise to be two raucous home playoff games, neither of which can possibly be an elimination game!

Lessons from Game 2

  • The small lineup worked, and until the Thunder figure out how to defend it, Dave Joerger should keep using it. It wasn't just that there were shooters on the floor—although that certainly helped, especially since Courtney Lee broke out of his interminable slump and actually was a shooter—the lineup also caused the Thunder D to break down on the baseline, opening up cutting and driving lanes that hadn't been there all night. Mike Miller may not be the most optimal small-ball 4, but he sure worked as one last night.

  • Another thing that worked last night was the deliberation with which the Grizzlies played the game, especially on offense and in transition. Especially early on (late in the game the Griz started to trade buckets with OKC as the pace increased, which is what allowed the Thunder to force overtime), every Griz offensive possession was slow, methodical, and mostly ugly, with no one shooting until 5 seconds remained on the shot clock. Beyond that, the Grizzlies made a concentrated effort to keep the Thunder from getting out in transition, where they really hurt the Griz in Game 1. Everything got dragged down into the mud, and the Grizzlies were able to assert their will for long stretches of the game, which worked in their favor.

  • Tony Allen's defense on Kevin Durant is a thing of terrible beauty. Allen guards the much taller Durant better than anyone else in the league (not named LeBron James, anyway) and his relentless fight to stay close enough to KD to make him uncomfortable is probably the most fun thing happening in this series so far. He's always defended him well—even though it took Lionel Hollins longer than anyone would've liked to admit as much last season—but this season he's going at KD like it's the last time he'll ever be on a basketball court. I'm sure the Thunder are going to spend a lot of time between now and Game 3 game-planning ways to scrape Allen off Durant, and the more effort they have to expend on that rather than ways to actually beat the Grizzlies, the better.

  • Kendrick Perkins actually played pretty well for OKC last night. In the long run, this is probably the best possible thing to happen to the Grizzlies last night (other than the win, obviously) because it'll give Scott Brooks more confidence in Perkins than he already has, causing him to play Perkins even more. Perkins is essentially good at one thing: post defense, and against Marc Gasol he's not even very good at that. His size and physicality have been giving Zach Randolph problems so far, but that's only one matchup. The more Kendrick Perkins is on the floor, the better the Grizzlies' chances of winning, period—so the fact that Perkins played well last night is actually a win for the Griz.

    Man of the Match

    Beno Udrih has been ecstatic about being on this Grizzlies roster since he set foot in the locker room, becoming a fan favorite on Twitter even though he seemed destined to ride the pine behind Nick Calathes waiting to step in the moment he was needed, just happy to be on a winning team with a good locker room (read: not the Knicks). When Calathes' suspension was announced, less than 24 hours before Game 1, the worry became that no matter how good Udrih is, he simply hadn't played enough minutes to learn the offense well enough to step in at backup point and fill Calathes' shoes.

    But last night, he got hot, and while the Griz still miss Calathes' length and his court vision, Udrih proved that he's still got what it takes to contribute on a playoff team, dropping 14 points in 14 minutes and contributing to a big Griz run fueled by the bench.

    More of that, please. Bring on Game 3. Maybe Beno will tweet from some other BBQ place on "Elvis Presley Avenue" in the interim.

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