Posts Tagged ‘Marc Gasol’

Randolph’s extension finally a mark of stability in Memphis

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

randolph

Zach Randolph has managed to average a double-double in three of the past four seasons. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – It’s a good day in Memphis.

The Grizzlies and grit-n-grind specialist Zach Randolph have worked together and come to an agreement on a two-year extension that will keep the skilled and beloved big man in Memphis through at least the 2016-17 season. Randolph, who turns 33 on July 16, opted into the final year of his contract for next season at $16.5 million and then will be owed $10 million in each of the following two seasons.

In essence, it becomes a three-year, $36.5 million deal, very similar to the three-year pact signed last summer by Indiana Pacers power forward David West.

Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the Randolph extension.

With the chaos that has engulfed the franchise the past two offseasons that saw coach Lionel Hollins let go last summer and then the team’s top two executives fired following this season, this was a move in the name of stability that Memphis had to make.

“It’s cool, man. This is where I want to be,” Randolph told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal shortly after the news broke Friday morning.

Randolph could have opted out of his contract and become a free agent, then signed a new deal that could have lowered his salary for this season and potentially aided the Grizzlies in making roster upgrades when free agency opens next week.

Memphis will be hard-pressed to do much this summer, but will have significant cap space next summer when they’ll likely look to re-sign center Marc Gasol and retool from there.

The 6-foot-9 power forward turned his seventh season in the last eight of averaging a double-double, 17.4 points and 10.1 rebounds, plus a career-best 2.5 assists. He helped Memphis rebound from a slow start under first-year coach Dave Joerger and through a knee injury to Gasol, to win 50 games.

They lost a grueling seven-game, first-round series to Oklahoma City. Randolph’s season disappointingly came to an end in Game 6. The league suspended him for one game for punching Thunder center Steven Adams in the jaw.

In his five seasons in Memphis, the Grizzlies have produced their best five-year period in franchise history. His blue-collar style quickly won over the fan base and by retaining Randolph, the Grizzlies hold onto their identity as a gritty, physical, low-post team in a Western Conference dominated by fast-paced, spread-it-out schemes.

Since losing in the 2013 Western Conference finals to the San Antonio Spurs, Randolph has consistently expressed his desire to remain in Memphis for the remainder of his career. At times, it might have seemed unlikely as a new front-office team took over at the start of last summer and began to shed salary, starting with Rudy Gay.

But that group is now gone and interim general manager Chris Wallace, the Grizzlies’ general manager who traded for Randolph in 2009 and then awarded him a whopping extension, has made sure that Randolph, surely to the delight of the team’s fans, will be sticking around.

No mystery Z-Bo’s heart’s in Memphis

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

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Zach Randolph, who turns 33 July 16, averaged 17.6 points and 10.1 rebounds last season. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — There’s more to Memphis than dry-rub ribs. For 260-pound Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph, there’s stability, familiarity and comfortability.

All of which runs counter to the chaos and upheaval within the franchise that started a year ago when the first-year front office team swept out coach Lionel Hollins following a Western Conference finals appearance in favor of his younger assistant Dave Joerger. Just last month, Joerger nearly walked to Minnesota after Grizzlies owner Robert Pera dismissed the front office team that had promoted him.

The re-insertion, at least temporarily, of general manager Chris Wallace, the man who traded for Randolph in 2009 and awarded him with a whopping extension, has again bolstered Randolph’s stock within the franchise. If it’s signing either an extension before free agency starts or negotiating a new, long-term contract (if Randolph opts out of his final year at $16.9 million by June 30), Z-Bo keeps making known his commitment to the Grizzlies.

And Memphis is eager to return the favor — Randolph’s five-year run has coincided with the franchise’s best-ever five-year period — by bringing him back on a multiyear deal. This mutual admiration society is a feel-good story, particularly in today’s NBA where players covet their freedom to choose.

“It’s going forward,” Grizzlies interim general manager Chris Wallace told the Memphis Commercial Appeal last week of an extension for Randolph. “We’re very excited about what Zach’s done in the past and hope to have him here in the future. This has really been a terrific boon for both sides. He’s obviously meant a great deal to us on and off the court. And Memphis has worked for him. This has been, by far, the best stop for him since he’s been in the NBA. So we’re working towards that goal.”

But it can also be risky business.

Z-Bo, who fans identify, along with Tony Allen, as the backbone of these modern-day, blue-collar Grizzlies, turns 33 on July 16, and locking big money into a player on the backside of his career can become counterproductive. His value could drop off precipitously in a couple years, and the committed dollars can handcuff a front office’s ability to spend during the offseason on needed roster reinforcements.

For instance, the Grizzlies, unlikely to ever spend into the luxury tax, are in dire need of perimeter shooters. Randolph’s decision to either sign an extension, which would kick in after the coming season and keep his 2014-15 salary at $16.9 million, or to opt out and agree to a lower annual dollar (debatably $10-$12 million) figure over a longer period beginning this season, will play a significant role in Memphis’ free-agent spending ability.

A year ago after losing to the Spurs in the West finals, Randolph was moved to tears when talking about his love for the team and the city. At the time, he was uncertain if the franchise might prefer to try to move the more than $30 million he had remaining on the final two years of his deal.

With point guard Mike Conley creeping ever closer to All-Star status with each season, and center Marc Gasol entering the final year of his contract, the Grizzlies, by committing to Randolph, are committing to their grit-n-grind identity, and to their slow-down, double-post offense while refusing to give into the rest of the speed-infused, drive-and-kick West.

Joerger tried to pick up the pace at the start of last season, but it was quickly dumped after it was determined by the players that they were built to play a certain way.

Randolph completed a fine season, averaging 17.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and a career-best 2.5 assists, up from 1.4 the previous season, although his defense and offensive rebounding continued to trend downward. During the first round of the playoffs against Oklahoma City, Randolph’s 18.3, 8.7 and 2.3 averages helped push the Thunder to a seventh game. Only he wouldn’t play in it, suspended for throwing a punch to the neck of OKC rookie center Steven Adams in Game 6, and Memphis couldn’t recover.

“I think he’s had one of the better [seasons] of his career,” Conley told NBA.com in March. “He’s not just doing his thing with double-doubles and all the things he’s accustomed to doing, but he’s sacrificed a lot for other players, he’s been unselfish. He’s making plays for other people, doing things he’s grown into and realizes that if he does the little things we’re going to be that much better of a team.”

Randolph, headed for his 14th season and became a two-time All-Star in Memphis, has been traded three times. Now that he finally has the power to explore other opportunities, he expresses his desire to only play in the small market on the banks of the Mississippi.

Whether Randolph’s new deal will ultimately be as mutually beneficial as the last one is a question that will have to wait for the answer.

Next few steps critical for Grizzlies

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Grizzlies fell in Game 7 to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The picture of instability.

The living and breathing definition of disarray.

That’s what that smoke cloud in Memphis looks like from afar.

The Grizzlies, a year removed from a trip to the 2013 Western Conference finals and weeks after a first round exit from the 2014 playoffs, dismissed team CEO Jason Levien and assistant general manager Stu Lash on Monday, ensuring a major shake-up would dominate their summer for the second straight year. They parted ways with HT fave and well-respected head coach Lionel Hollins after last season’s trip to the conference finals.

Further complicating matters this time around is the Grizzlies giving Dave Joerger — who succeeded Hollins and led the Grizzlies to a 50-win season — permission to speak with the Minnesota Timberwolves about their coaching vacancy.

On the surface it’s yet another head-scratching decision from a franchise that’s making that a habit:

“The Timberwolves are the only NBA team of the 30 in the league that are in his home state and after having a long and honest conversation with Dave, he felt he owed it to his family, which resides entirely in Minnesota … and we felt we owed it to Dave to at least have a discussion in this regard,” Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace told ESPN 92.9 FM in Memphis.

Asked if that was best for the Grizzlies, Wallace said he didn’t see anything wrong with granting Joerger the chance to talk.

“He’s just been granted permission to talk and will do so soon,” said Wallace, who has assumed interim watch over the basketball operations while [Grizzlies owner Robert] Pera restructures the front office.

All signs point to Pera being the one instigating these changes after a reported clash with his management team, changes that elicited this simple but appropriate response from Grizzlies guard Tony Allen:

All this is yet another disconnect between ownership, management and the coaching staff that leads to dysfunction and entropy. The Grizzlies aren’t true championship contenders. But they’re certainly closer to the Western Conference power elite than they are to the consistent lottery crowd.

Pera has every right to do as he pleases with his franchise. He’s paying a handsome price for that right. But he should be careful. There have been others in his shoes who have chosen to do it their way, a “new” way, despite being advised to hire smart people and then step back and allow them to do their jobs.

The richest or smartest man or woman in the room isn’t always right when it comes to basketball decisions. It makes me think back to the way things unraveled in Phoenix when the Robert Sarver-led group took over a contender and slowly but surely reduced the team to a lottery-dweller that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2010.

(Granted, the 2013-14 Suns won 48 games and became just the second team in the past 40 years to win that many games and miss the postseason.)

In a copycat league in which teams structure their franchises based on the most successful outfits, down to the way the socks are organized in the equipment room, it boggles the mind that anyone would want to retrace the steps the Suns took when they broke from the sturdy leadership of Jerry Colangelo and Bryan Colangelo.

Yes, the Suns survived for a couple of seasons without the Colangelo-Mike D’Antoni power structure in place. But that talented roster they initially had — Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson —  eroded over the years leaving nothing from the glory days but an aging Nash,who was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Lakers..

The Grizzlies would be wise to tread cautiously as they go down what appears to be a similar path. Wallace has been in the front-office game long enough to know just how hard it is to get back to where the Grizzlies are now if they do dip below the playoff line.

Memphis battled back this year from early stumbles and an injury to Marc Gasol to secure that seventh spot in the Western Conference playoffs. Who knows what would have happened in Game 7 of the opening round against the Thunder if they had been able to play Zach Randolph, who had been suspended for clocking Thunder big man Steven Adams in the jaw in Game 6?

The point being, overreacting after a season like this could be detrimental to the long-term health of what’s been built in Memphis. Randolph, Gasol, Allen, Mike Conley, Mike Miller and the rest of the the Grizzlies are ready to compete for the foreseeable future.

Someone needs to wake up, quickly, to refrain from any more of the foolishness that has marked the Grizzlies’ offseason for a second straight spring.

Durant must be defensive force, too

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Relive Game 1 and get ready for Game 2

SAN ANTONIO – Kevin Durant scored 28 points and made 10 of his 19 shots in Game 1. Four of his seven 3-point attempts were good. He pulled down nine rebounds and had five assists.

He needs to get to the free-throw line more than just four times, including only once after the first quarter. He said he plans to be more aggressive in tonight’s Game 2 (9 p.m. ET, TNT) to help make that happen.

Assuming the Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t going to magically figure out a way to protect the rim in Serge Ibaka‘s absence with their current personnel,  and with so little time to work on schemes against the mighty San Antonio Spurs, Durant needs to make an impact on the defensive end. He can help do that by improving in two key areas: Steals and turnovers.

Durant had no steals in Game 1 and turned it over a game-high six times. Obviously, steals can lead to fast breaks and decreasing turnovers can help prevent them the other way.

We’ve seen Durant try to defend bigger bodies at times this postseason like Marc Gasol, Blake Griffin and Tim Duncan in Game 1. It’s not his strong suit. He’s most effective when he’s utilizing use his ridiculously long limbs to disrupt passing lanes and pressure the point of attack.

When he, Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson combine their length and quickness, they can create tipped passes and opportunities to break out in transition for easy baskets.

In Game 1, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili had it far too easy to do whatever they pleased. Each had just one turnover. The Spurs had just 10 turnovers and they outscored Oklahoma City 16-11 in fast-break points.

“We can get there, we can guard these guys, and we just have to do it,” Durant said. “We have to be engaged for initially the first 10 seconds of the shot clock because that’s where they get most of their points. We have to be solid throughout the whole shot clock, as well.  They’re a deep team.  They have a lot of guys that can come in and score quickly for them, but we’ve got a lot of good defenders, as well.”

OKC is a high turnover team and as long as Durant and Westbrook are playing, turnovers are going to be part of it. Limiting wasteful possessions is going to be critical against a team that was able to score virtually at will during Game 1.

Durant has 21 turnovers and just three steals in the last four games (he does have six blocks in that time).

We’ve got athletic guys here, and we have to do it,” Durant said of clamping down defensively. “In order for us to get where we want to get to, we’ve got to do smart things like that.”

It starts with the MVP.

The downer that is OKC and KD

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Despite Russell Westbrook’s triple-double, the Grizzlies took Game 5 in OT

Full disclosure: I picked the Oklahoma City Thunder to win it all this season. I have defended Russell Westbrook as a worthy co-pilot for Kevin Durant, going so far as to declare them the most dynamic duo in the league. I’ve written that Scott Brooks deserves less criticism as a tactician and more credit as a talent developer and team builder.

These defenses are crumbling right along with the Thunder’s title hopes. So perplexing are their performances that the Oklahoma City fans, a tremendously friendly and faithful base, booed their boys during a particularly lethargic patch when they got down by 20 in Tuesday’s 100-99 overtime loss that moved my hand-picked champs to the brink of elimination.

And now everything I thought I knew about the Thunder is flapping in the wind.

The argument that the 50-win Memphis Grizzlies are not a typical No. 7 seed and a bear of a matchup for any opponent is valid. They have played solidly and a scheme to make the league’s scoring champ and soon-to-be named regular-season MVP miserable has worked.

A playoff-record four consecutive games have gone to overtime, three won by the Grizzlies. Rationally, it can be touted that a favorable bounce here, a shot lipping in instead of out, one extra tenth-of-a-second, and the Thunder own this series. But even the Thunder wouldn’t go there.

Suddenly Thunder general manager Sam Presti, the bright, young and bespectacled executive credited with creating this juggernaut is 48 minutes from facing a mountain of questions he didn’t see coming.

All the past criticisms are more real than ever, and things don’t turn quickly they swirl around the compatibility of Durant and Westbrook, and Brooks’ ability to make it work. Westbrook, the force-of-nature point guard who plays with no restrictor plate at all times, has said sitting out last postseason provided him new perspective of his position and role within the team. But as the Thunder offense devolves into an alarmingly high rate of isolation and heavy dribbling, his shots, some too early in the shot clock, some bewilderingly off-balance and from awkward angles, keep mounting.

His shot attempts have increased from 17.2 in the regular season to 25.6 in the playoffs. That he’s shooting only 34.4 percent overall and 18.4 percent from 3-point range, is as troubling as Brooks’ inability or unwillingness to reign in him at key times.

After Game 5, Westbrook said his shot selection can get better, but if Memphis is giving him the 15-foot jumper he’ll make it nine times out of 10.

Unfortunately, he finished Game 5 10-for-30 overall and 1-for-7 from beyond the arc. And never was his complexity more apparent. He totaled a triple-double with 13 assists and 10 rebounds, plus a critical steal, pick-pocketing Memphis point guard Mike Conley that ensured overtime. He also allowed Conley to blow by him twice in overtime.

As for Durant, a cold-blooded killer during his historic regular season,  he is just cold. His smile has vanished, his body language has slumped. With grinding defender Tony Allen or long-limbed Tayshaun Prince hounding him on the perimeter and Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol waiting in the paint, getting to the rim against the Grizzlies isn’t for the faint of heart.

But Durant’s perceived passivity — Brooks, and even Conley, said he remains aggressive — is removing a major part of his scoring arsenal, the free throw. According to SportVU stats, Durant has made fewer drives to the basket than Miami’s Dwyane Wade, Brooklyn’s Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson, and Dallas’ 37-year-old shooting guard Vince Carter, while playing in one more game than all of them.

It’s resulting in two fewer free throws a game than he averaged in the regular season, and more stunningly, he’s making just 71.8 percent (28-for-39). He is an 88.2 percent free throw shooter over his career and eclipsed 90 percent last season. Durant was 3-for-6 in Game 5 and missed the potential game-tying free throw with 27.6 seconds to go. Is that a sign of fatigue for the league’s far-and-away minutes leader during the regular season?

After Game 5, Durant said he was “fine” with being used as a decoy in the final six minutes after knocking down a 3-pointer that capped a 27-6 run and gave OKC it’s first lead of the game. He then went 12 consecutive possessions without getting off a shot. He only touched it three times as Brooks made the curious decision to use Durant in the corner to space the floor for Reggie Jackson to drive.

The Thunder haven’t looked like the team expected to make a run at the title since it came out smoking in the first half of Game 1. Maybe they figure things out and turn it on in Game 6, and maybe Durant regains his MVP groove that saw him accomplish multiple feats that hadn’t been done since Michael Jordan.

But then, that was the plot line for Game 5, and it didn’t happen.

Another look: KD’s 4-point play

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant’s incredible 4-point play

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — In a season filled with jaw-dropping plays, Kevin Durant outdid himself with that incredible 4-point play from the wing against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Check it from every angle and there’s no way Durant is even supposed to get that shot off over Marc Gasol, let alone swish it as he’s falling out of bounds.

Is it wrong for us to expect to be dazzled again in Game 3 tonight (8 p.m. ET, TNT)?

Of course, not!

It’s the playoffs, where legends are made and jaw-dropping plays happen on the regular. Durant and the Thunder will need to make plenty tonight in Memphis. Game 3 is huge for both teams. The Thunder cannot afford to dig a hole while on the road for Games 3 and 4 and then return home with all of that pressure for Game 5.

Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley won the 2013-14 NBA Sportsmanship Award today, but there will be nothing hospitable about what awaits the Thunder in Memphis tonight. Grizzlies fans will have The FedEx Forum rocking and the battle between Conley and Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook should be as entertaining as ever.

But the hero ball aspect of the Thunder’s attack (namely with Durant and Westbrook taking turns playing hero) has to stop, according to Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant have combined to take 100 of the Thunder’s 169 shot attempts in Oklahoma City’s first two games of this first-round series against Memphis.

That’s 59.1 percent of the team’s attempts.

The duo has taken 34 of the team’s 43 shots in the fourth quarters and overtime.

That’s 79 percent.

Hero ball, at least for the time being, appears to be back.

And that’s not a good thing. Never has been for the Thunder.

The question is can OKC get away from that style in Game 3 on Thursday night in Memphis? Against the gritty Grizzlies, it seems the Thunder has to.

“We have to trust what we do and not try to scrap it (and look) for the homerun play,” said forward Nick Collison. “In our history, we’ve gone to that sometimes and it doesn’t work very well.”

Well, a little bit of hero ball never hurts. It worked well for Durant on that 4-point play …

Check out this different take on Durant’s big shot …
KD-4-pointer

 

Blogtable: On the Grizz’s grit

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Indiana awakening? | Game 1 illusion or harbinger | Grading the Grizz’s chances



VIDEO: The Memphis Grizzlies beat the Thunder in OKC in Game 2 of their first-round series

> After that win in OKC, are you ready to pick the gritty Grizzlies over the Thunder?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Not ready. Which is not to say I didn’t find Memphis’ survival in its overtime Game 2 victory to be thoroughly impressive. There were repeated opportunities for the Grizzlies to crack (and potentially have Mike Conley go into some guilt-ridden funk for some late-game mishaps), but they navigated around them. Hey, Z-Bo happened. Still, OKC has so much talent in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook it can win almost in spite of itself most nights. I’m headed to Memphis for Games 3 and 4, while hoping we get 5, 6 and 7 too.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Who exactly was it at Overreaction Central that thought the Thunder were going to sweep every game into The Finals? The Grizzles are rough and rugged and are never easy to beat.  But OKC had the second-best (25-16) road record in the West and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are still too much. Things will be bruising at the Grind House, but the Thunder survive.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Pick the Grizzlies? No. It was one game. Memphis with Tayshaun Prince initially and then Tony Allen, does have a way of frustrating Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook can’t keep launching bad shots — good luck with all that — but the Thunder remain the more talented team. Sweeps are hard to come by and there’s no reason to think Memphis can’t take this to six games. But pick them to win it? Nah.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Still going Thunder. Because I think the previous 82 games mean something and because I think OKC also knows a lot about grit. It played through big injuries, still sees defense as the base of the success and developed young players while finishing with the second-best record in the West. I like the matchup for the Thunder, too. It’s not just tale of the tape with regular-season records.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: No. And it’s not because the Grizzlies aren’t great. They are. They’re better than what we should expect from a No. 7 seed. But they also had an uncharacteristically good shooting game from the perimeter on Monday and, more importantly, Oklahoma City is better. They’re the No. 2 seed for a reason, they’re strong on both ends of the floor, and they’ll find a way to loosen Tony Allen’s clamp on Kevin Durant.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Nope. Not yet, at least. But I am feeling like we have a seven-gamer on our hands for sure. The Grizzlies will pound you into submission with their defense, especially on the perimeter. And they wore the Thunder down and made sure that they had to work for every shot, good and bad (and Naismith knows, the Thunder get up plenty of both), the entire night. That’s a recipe for a Game 7 in OKC that I think we’d all enjoy.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: The Grizz looked pretty good, to be sure, but for large stretches of the game, the Thunder weren’t really rumbling. The Thunder had their usual array of self-created obstacles to overcome, like Scott Brooks stopping a late 3-on-2 break with a timeout, or like when they needed a 2 to tie with the game on the line and couldn’t (or wouldn’t) get the ball to the presumptive MVP of the league, Kevin Durant. That said, these are fixable problems, and I think the Thunder should be able to take care of these things.

Thunder thrive on the good, shrug off the ugly in opening win

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Thunder weather Grizzlies’ rally to take Game 1

OKLAHOMA CITY – As the dust settled on one of the stranger wire-to-wire victories you’ll see, the Oklahoma City Thunder had to be wondering if what just happened really happened.

In the span of three quarters of Saturday night’s 100-86 Game 1 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, the Thunder, once again with Russell Westbrook riding postseason shotgun next to Kevin Durant, showed the world their magnificence, and their warts.

Westbrook started with a turbo blast and it looked like the Thunder might never look back. The lead was 20 before the second quarter was half over. It was 25 — 56-31 — with 6.6 seconds until halftime. Durant and Westbrook had already combined for 33.

Less than five minutes into the third quarter, the lead was down to nine. Nine minutes later Mike Miller drained a 3-pointer and it was Thunder 74, Grizzlies 72.

“They were going to make a run,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “I didn’t anticipate the type of run they had in the third quarter.”

The sellout crowd moaned and groaned and hence the very reason Memphis and Dallas clobbered each other for four quarters and an overtime in the season finale for the right to call their shot against the roller coaster erraticism of the No. 2-seed Thunder over the precision performance of the Western Conference’s top-seeded Spurs.

Brooks went on to say it doesn’t matter how you win as long as you win. And that’s true. And maybe the Thunder, so fast, so athletic, so frenetic at either end for stretches of unpredictable length and fury that it’s simply impossible to maintain such a level throughout a 48-minute game; that a letdown is inevitable and that a quality opponent, as the Grizzlies are, will sense an opening.

“We want to play with that type of intensity,” Brooks said. “No question, it’s hard to play it for four quarters, 48 minutes, 85 or 90 offensive possessions, but we want to strive for that. Tonight in that third quarter, probably seven or eight minutes of that wasn’t as well as we would have liked. But, we fought back, we kept the lead and we extended it down the stretch.”

The Grizzlies have to believe they’re in trouble in this matchup. They’ve lost backup point guard Nick Calathes to a 20-game drug policy suspension and Tayshaun Prince left Game 1 early in the first quarter, too ill to continue on. In the third-quarter desperation to keep clawing, first-year coach Dave Joerger stuck with his four starters and Tony Allen for the entire quarter and deep into the fourth.

Marc Gasol played 45 minutes and all but 47 seconds of the second half with Game 2 approaching quickly Monday night. Zach Randolph logged 39 minutes. Together they went 14-for-40 from the field as the Thunder slacked off whatever outside threat Memphis could muster and hunkered down.

What should not be lost in the Thunder’s first step in getting back to the NBA Finals, a mission sabotaged right about a year ago when Westbrook tore the meniscus in his right knee, is how much deeper and more complete this Thunder squad is than the 2012 team with James Harden and last year’s club that entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed.

Ten players logged at least 12 minutes. Caron Butler put in 30. Rookie center Steven Adams played 12 minutes and had three blocks in his first six minutes. Serge Ibaka was spectacular with 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting, nine rebounds and four blocks, two being skywalking power blocks that will replay on every highlight show over the next 24-hour news cycle. His eight-point third quarter saved the Thunder’s lead.

Westbrook, who had 23 points and 10 rebounds, and Reggie Jackson combined for 18 rebounds, one more than Gasol and Randolph. Durant finished with 33 points on 13-for-25 shooting, seven assists and eight rebounds. Just 8-for-18 from the field, he closed the game 5-for-6 in the fourth quarter.

“We just stayed together and we made plays in that fourth quarter,”  Durant said. “The third quarter was tough for us, but we stayed together. We didn’t stray away. We talked it through and made it work on offense and the defensive end and were able to pull away in that fourth quarter.”

Nitpick if you like. Yes, the Thunder again showed their warts, but they also showed how magnificent they can be. This is a dangerous team, now healthy and eager, that would suggest it is just getting started.

Grizzlies’ Calathes suspended 20 games

Memphis Grizzlies backup point guard Nick Calathes has been suspended by the league for 20 games starting with Saturday night’s Game 1 of the first-round playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder for violating the league’s drug policy.

The league announced late Friday night that Calathes, a 2009 draft pick of the Dallas Mavericks who slowly carved out a niche with the Grizzlies in this, his first season in the NBA, tested positive for tamoxifen. The drug is used to treat fertility in women, but is also known to be used by athletes in conjunction with steroids.

A spokesman for the Grizzlies said the organization would not comment on the suspension at this time.

The 6-foot-6 Calathes played in 71 games and averaged 4.9 ppg, 2.9 apg — third on the team behind Mike Conley and Marc Gasol — and 1.9 rpg in 16.5 mpg. He shot 45.7 percent from the floor, but 49.2 percent on 2-point shots, which accounted for the majority of his attempts.

Calathes’ absence will add more to starting point guard Conley’s load and shooting guard Courtney Lee will likely be pressed into more ball-handling. Conley averaged 33.5 mpg during the regular season. Beno Udrih, who the Grizzlies claimed off waivers from the New York Knicks in February, may also be able to help shoulder the load.

The No. 7-seed Grizzlies won 50 games after starting the season 13-17. They begin their first-round series at OKC on Saturday night (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). Memphis beat the Thunder without Russell Westbrook in five games in last year’s conference semifinals.

This is not the way they hoped to begin the rematch.

Numbers preview: Thunder-Grizzlies

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Taking a closer look at the Thunder-Grizzlies matchup

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies both survived injuries that knocked out key players for big chunks of the season. Their reward is facing each other in the first round.

This is a rematch of last year’s conference semifinals, a series won by the Grizzlies in five games. Oklahoma City will have Russell Westbrook this time, but the Grizzlies aren’t the same team either. They’ve made some upgrades on the wings and still have one of the league’s best defenses.

Here are some statistical nuggets regarding the 2 and 7 seeds in the Western Conference, as well as the four regular-season games they played against each other.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Oklahoma City Thunder (59-23)

Pace: 97.9 (9)
OffRtg: 108.1 (7)
DefRtg: 101.0 (5)
NetRtg: +7.1 (3)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Memphis: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Thunder notes:

  • The only team that has ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency each of the last three seasons.
  • Best second quarter team in the league, outscoring opponents by 10.7 points per 100 possessions.
  • Won 14 of the 31 games they trailed by 10 or more points. That winning percentage of .452 led the league and was more than twice the league average (.214) for situations when teams trailed by at least 10.
  • Kevin Durant grabbed 74.9 percent of his rebounding chances, the highest mark in the league.

Memphis Grizzlies (50-32)

Pace: 92.2 (30)
OffRtg: 103.3 (16)
DefRtg: 102.1 (8)
NetRtg: +1.2 (14)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Oklahoma City: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Grizzlies notes:

The matchup

Season series: Thunder won 3-1 (2-0 at home)
Pace: 94.6
OKC OffRtg: 106.5 (7th vs. MEM)
MEM OffRtg: 98.6 (21st vs. OKC)

Matchup notes: