What is Batman without Robin? He may still be “Batman” but he isn’t going to get the mission accomplished without his much needed sidekick. We are now seeing the true impact that Russell Westbrook has on this OKC team. As long as Westbrook is with Durant, he will be thought of as the second guy. But Russell Westbrook is unquestionably a superstar talent that the Thunder can’t live without.
The absence of Westbrook is a gift for the Grizzlies because he torched them in the 2011 conference semi-finals. The Grizzlies are probably the better team from top-to-bottom even with Westbrook in the mix. Durant has gotten considerable help from Reggie Jackson, but Jackson just isn’t Westbrook. That isn’t Jackson’s fault. It’s just a gap that OKC has in it’s roster.
There is no question that Memphis strives from their post game, both offensively and defensively. Zach Randolph has been a punishing presence in the post on offense. Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol has backed up his award and held his ground in the post on defense. OKC matches that duo with two very good defenders in Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. However, they have not been able to match Randolph and Gasol by any means.
The Thunder absolutely needed those two to have a competitive battle with Randolph and Gasol. Not only is Gasol a tremendous defensive player, but he’s also a very good offensive player. Perkins prefers to stick near the basket on defense but Marc Gasol is very comfortable stepping out and hitting a short jumper. Ibaka is one of the league’s best shot blockers but Randolph is great at using his body to create separation.
At times, Marc Gasol doesn’t need to carry as much weight on defense. He often just needs to box out and make sure his team secures the rebound. That is because Memphis’ perimeter defense has also been stellar. Tony Allen welcomes the challenge of guarding one of the league’s most lethal scorers in Kevin Durant. Tayshaun Prince also covers Durant for some of the game. The two have done a fantastic job of forcing the ball out of Durant’s hands.
When Kevin Durant does have to deliver for his team, it is usually a highly difficult shot that few players can get off. Durant is getting few easy looks each game as a result of Lionel Hollins’ defensive scheme. Grizzlies’ defenders help out after Durant’s explosive first step to prevent him from getting an easy look. Unfortunately for the Thunder, Durant is not surrounded with many perimeter shooters. Derek Fisher is an exception but the Grizzlies have managed to quickly close out on him. Kevin Martin is a very good shooter but he often likes to score off the dribble.
Let’s not forget the way Mike Conley has led this team. After doing a great job dueling Chris Paul, Conley is clearly the better point guard in this series. Conley has improved tremendously over the last year or so. He is using his experience and IQ to present problems for the young Reggie Jackson. Conley’s outside shooting, something he isn’t particularly known for, has been on par.
Superstar, Kevin Durant, is simply being asked to do too much for this team. The Grizzlies are too deep and talented of a team to suffer from Durant’s heroics. Durant is a phenomenal player and one of the faces of this league but he can’t take this tough Grizzlies team by himself. To wrap it up, the Oklahoma City Thunder have 99 problems but Kevin Durant isn’t one.
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