OKLAHOMA CITY — For six games, NBA fans who watched Oklahoma City and Houston were treated to an up tempo series, marked by high flying offense. Three-pointers were raining down and each game at least one team topped the century mark. It was exactly the type of product league officials want to see.
Those days will soon be a distant memory. The Western Conference semifinal between Oklahoma City and Memphis will be the opposite of the Thunder’s first round series. Yet, it should be just as dramatic.
“It’s definitely going to be a different style of play,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “We have to flip the switch quickly. They play possession by possession with maximum effort. We are the same way. We understand it’s going to be a very physical game.”
When Oklahoma City and Memphis hooked up during the regular season, they were games in which the final scores did not tell the entire story. The
Grizzlies won the series 2-1.
However, it was the teams first encounter Nov. 14 that provides the best indication of exactly what type of series fans can expect. Memphis won 107-97 and the game was marked by five technical fouls, two ejections and a locker room altercation between Kendrick Perkins and Zach Randolph.
Even though that game was almost six months ago, it set the tone for what is to come.
“That’s in their DNA,” Kevin Durant said. “That’s what they do and that’s what we do.
Guys are going to go out there pushing and shoving. It’s going to be a really physical series. That’s what both teams do. We hang our hats on being a physical team.”
Since that first matchup, both teams have gone through drastic changes. Memphis traded their leading scorer Rudy Gay to Toronto and brought back the more defensively-minded Tayshaun Prince in return.
Oklahoma City is still trying to figure out what type of team it is without the services of Russell Westbrook, who suffered a season ending injury in Game 2 against Houston.
While Memphis has had much of the season to get used to life without Gay, playing without Westbrook is still a puzzle. At times it looked like a comedy of errors, but in Game 6 Friday, it seemed to all click for Oklahoma City. Kevin Martin found his shooting touch, Reggie Jackson showed he can control the tempo and Nick Collison provided the inside scoring the team has always needed.
“I think we needed that Game 5 to be honest,” Durant said. “As much as it hurt to lose on our home floor in a close out game, we just needed to relax and get back to the basics. Which is having fun, doing what we do as an organization: just going out there and playing for the love of the game.”
Collison will be needed even more against the Grizzlies, who feature Randolph and Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol in the middle. The duo bullied the Clippers in the opening round.
This is nothing new to Collison and Perkins. Both seem suited for the grindhouse game Memphis employs. Throw in Serge Ibaka and former Memphis No. 2 overall pick Hasheem Thabeet and Oklahoma City has the size to contend.
“We’ve had a lot of difficult games with them,” Collison said. “They’ve beaten us their fair share of times too. When we play them, it’s a physical game. Both teams compete. There are not a lot of tricks. It’s both teams competing and fighting to get a win.”
This is the second time in three years that Oklahoma City has gone nose-to-nose with Memphis in the playoffs. The Thunder won an epic seven game series in 2011, but it was clear to see at the time that the two teams would stand in each others’ way for the next few years. For now, both teams are just worried about the next two weeks.
“Against the Clippers, they hit first,” Durant said. “We have to be the team that hits first in this series. It’s going to be a tough and fun series.”
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