When Zach Randolph received suspension from Saturday night’s Game 7 between the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder, the first round series was over instantly. As his team’s leading scorer throughout the series, Randolph’s inability to control his emotions in most of Game 6 fully blew any chance of a Memphis victory. This, paired with the capitalization of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant’s impressive offensive performances, propelled the Thunder to an easy 120-109 victory at home.
This series should not have gone to seven games. OKC is a better team in every sense of the word; their ability to crush defenses from so many different approaches will give every defense headaches for the remainder of the playoffs. Now, more than ever, the adversity this team has faced in this first round series shows a squad wholly legitimate as a championship contender.
The catalyst for the improvement was obviously Zach Randolph’s suspension and Mike Conley’s hamstring injury which had him hobbling throughout the series’ final game, but the Grizzlies’ inability to slow down the pace and make the Thunder uncomfortable in a half-court setting was a clear indication of what would be the final outcome. This victory in a crucial game seven was earned in every sense, especially with the Thunder’s knack for controlling tempo and running at a fast-pace down the stretch to give Caron Butler and Kevin Durant easy looks from three and unleash Westbrook’s transition attack.
The Grizzlies just didn’t have enough offensive firepower and defensive energy to stop the Thunder, as Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams’ interior presences made easy looks impossible inside, making shots from deep highly contested. With the Thunder’s formidable transition attack, defensive stops were a key as leaking into the fast-break game made OKC’s life much easier. This series acted as a breaking out part for Adams; his defensive ability has never been more evident than now and he could see huge minutes moving forward in the playoffs. His ability in the low post has shown on a couple of the best big men in the league throughout this series in Randolph and Gasol, a sure indicator of good things to come for Adams.
Again, the better team won this series. Oklahoma City is the team with the potential of a championship run, and this first matchup with a tough Grizzlies team was a huge first step in the process. The team improved in every aspect of the game, and will be in the playoffs for quite some time if it can impose its run-and-gun style of play on each team it encounters moving forward.