NBA playoffs: Grizzlies, facing Thunder tonight, are keeping things in perspective

NBA Playoffs continue Monday evening. The Memphis Grizzlies host the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Fedex Forum in Game 4 of their second-round, Western Division NBA playoff series. The game will air at 9:30 p.m. ET on TNT.

By , Contributor

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    Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph (50) is defended by Oklahoma City Thunder forward Nick Collison (4) and James Harden (13) during the overtime period of Game 3 in a second-round NBA basketball series on Saturday, May 7, in Memphis, Tenn.
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This past week, following a win in Game 3 of their playoff series with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Memphis Grizzlies encountered an adversary whose importance far outweighed that of any opponent they’ve ever faced on the court.

The city of Memphis is currently struggling with the worst flooding they’ve experienced since 1937. In response, the Grizzlies volunteered to assist the American Red Cross in providing much needed comfort and supplies to Memphis residents displaced by the waters.

According to the team’s website, the Grizzlies are arranging viewings of their games in local churches and shelters, where they will also be distributing special Grizzlies giveaway items. Regarding the effort, Greg Campbell, Grizzlies president of business operations, has said, “This is a difficult time for a lot of people in the area and the Grizzlies are committed to helping the victims of the floods in any way that we can, providing assistance to the Memphis community in which we are firmly embedded … we hope that our game viewings provide a welcome distraction from the current crisis and allow those displaced to remain part of the playoff excitement despite the circumstances.”

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As for FedexForum, the Grizzlies’ home court, it fortunately has been largely unaffected by the water and tonight’s Game 4 will be played as scheduled. Not only that, Memphis’ home arena is sold out for the fifth consecutive playoff game.

Thus far in this series, Memphis and Oklahoma City have played exciting, but largely uneven games. In the first two meetings, bench play had a key role. In Game 1, Memphis’ bench outscored Oklahoma City’s 27 to 16; in Game 2, Oklahoma City’s scored 48 points to Memphis’ 29.

And in Game 3, led by starting forward Zach Randolph’s 21 points and 21 rebounds, Memphis got a welcome lift from reserve guard O.J. Mayo, who added 18 points to bring Memphis back from a 16-point fourth quarter deficit to a dramatic overtime win. In doing so in front of their home crowd, the Grizzlies’ defense held the Thunder to a combined 17 points in the fourth quarter and the five-minute overtime session.

What to expect in Game 4

In their fourth playoff meeting tonight at the FedexForum, Memphis’ fortunes will rest squarely on the continued strong scoring of Randolph, and center Marc Gasol. If Oklahoma City’s big men – center Kendrick Perkins and power forward Serge Ibaka – are burned in a fashion similar to Game 1, Memphis should have a good night.

And depending on how much of a scoring run Oklahoma City goes on against the Grizzlies’ starters, you might see Memphis return to a smaller, faster lineup such as the one led by reserve forward Shane Battier that helped them win Game 3 in such dramatic fashion. This would have the added benefit of keeping the Memphis crowd electrified and loud – as it always helps to have a “sixth man” (as a team’s fans are often referred to) in the house.

Oklahoma City, for its part, must try and stay out of foul trouble – they committed 30 to Memphis’ 17 in game 3. That helped Memphis get to the free-throw line 44 times for 30 charity points. The Thunder also need the bench to excel, as was the case in Game 2 - meaning guards James Harden and Eric Maynor have to step up big and score in double-figures.

Oklahoma City’s ball-handlers also must protect the ball in the process; if the Thunder commit 18 turnovers again as they did in Game 1, they’re in real trouble, because their very average defense hasn’t been able to keep Memphis under 100 points in any of the previous three contests. Add to this the Grizzlies, in that first game in particular, proved very opportune on the boards - grabbing 17 offensive rebounds and scoring 22 second chance points.

Memphis has generally worked harder throughout this series. Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, at 27 points per game, has been the team’s most reliable scorer, but otherwise, the Thunder have demonstrated a generally erratic offense and lackluster defense. This has permitted the more aggressive Grizzlies to focus on and exploit the Thunder’s offensive and defensive miscues. If the Thunder allow those trends to continue this evening, by the end of the night they will be on the verge of losing the series.

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