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May 1, 2014; Memphis, TN, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies in game six of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at FedExForum. The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 104-84. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma City Thunder: No Excuses In Game 7

 

Kevin Durant, even with his explosion in Game 6 Thursday night, is enduring a .412/.250/.778 series against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

Russell Westbrook, despite averaging 25.3 points a game through the first six games of the series, is shooting just .356/.200/.864.

As a team, the Thunder has been held to 99.2 points per game and 41.1 shooting overall, 29.2 percent from 3-point range.

And heading into Saturday’s Game 7 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, the Thunder also have zero excuses for not finishing off the series and putting the seventh-seeded Grizzlies away  … finally.

The NBA suspended Memphis power forward Zach Randolph for Game 7 for his punch to the jaw of rookie center Steven Adams midway through the fourth quarter of Game 6. You can see the play here:

Beyond that, Memphis point guard Mike Conley plans to try and play in Game 7 despite a strained right hamstring he sustained three weeks ago against Phoenix and re-aggravated in the third quarter of Game 6.

That leaves the Grizzlies critically short at the point guard position. If Conley can’t go, veteran Beno Udrih becomes the team’s only option, with rookie Nick Calathes serving a suspension for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy.

And all of that means the Thunder have no one to blame but themselves if they can’t get it done Saturday.

Randolph is the Grizzlies’ leading scorer in the series at 18.2 points per game and is tied with Marc Gasol for the team rebounding lead at 8.7 per game. Randolph hasn’t been terribly efficient, shooting 40.4 percent, but this series degenerated into a defensive slugfest rapidly; Memphis is shooting 41.2 percent in the series and 28.9 percent from 3-point range—nearly identical to Oklahoma City.

Conley is averaging 7.7 assists per game in the series to go with his 15.2 points a night, but what can’t be replaced is Conley’s athleticism in defending Westbrook.

In 38.5 minutes a game, Conley has a defensive rating of 99.8 points allowed per 100 possessions and an assist ratio of 29.8. Udrih, in 16.3 minutes a game, has a D-rating of 101.9 and an assist ratio of 19.5.

You don’t need an advanced mathematics degree to see the drop off there, particularly when considering that Udrih is the Grizzlies’ only other option if Conley is limited or unable to go.

It’s a big game for the Thunder and it’s a particularly big game for coach Scott Brooks, who has taken some criticism for the Thunder’s lack of creativity at the offensive end in this series.

Brooks has an outstanding regular season record of 293-170, a .633 winning percentage, in his five-plus seasons with Oklahoma City. If you take away the 22-47 mark in his first season, when he replaced P.J. Carlesimo after a 1-12 start, that mark improves to 271-123, a .688 winning percentage.

But after making a run to the NBA Finals in 2012, the Thunder lost in the conference semifinals last season and have been locked in a death struggle to get away from Memphis in this first-round matchup.

It’s almost unthinkable that a coach who has had this much success could be on a seat that is anything but cool. But remind yourself where George Karl and Lionel Hollins coached this season and suddenly it’s not so unthinkable.

And with Randolph’s suspension and Conley’s injury, the Thunder are in what could be considered a great position—having seemingly every advantage in a decisive game to advance to the conference semifinals.

But the opposite side of that coin is that there are no excuses.

Tags: 2014 NBA Playoffs Oklahoma City Thunder

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