The Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies have split the first four games of their first-round postseason series. On Tuesday night, the two teams will battle for a 3-2 edge, when they face off in Game Five.
As the No.2 seed in the Western Conference, Oklahoma City entered the 2014 NBA Playoffs as a heavy favorite to advance to the second round. Through four games, though, they are lucky to have two victories.
Following a 14-point win in Game One, the Thunder have not looked like the superior team. Memphis took the next two games, which both went into overtime. The Grizzlies were poised to take Game Four, as well, but blew a five-point lead with one minute remaining in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma City survived a third consecutive overtime contest, 92-89.
Oklahoma City hopes that a return home will help them play like the team that won 59 games in the regular season. At 34-7, the Thunder registered the second-best home record in the NBA.
Kevin Durant was the biggest reason for the Thunder’s second-place finish in the conference. He won another scoring title, averaging 32 points per game on over 50 percent field-goal shooting. The forward also added 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game, giving him a strong chance to prevent LeBron James from winning his third consecutive MVP award. Against Memphis, however, his production has dropped.
Durant leads all players in the series with 28.5 points per game, but he hasn’t been as efficient as usual. His shooting percentage is below 40 percent, and he’s making less than 27 percent of his three-point attempts. While the Thunder were able to escape Game Four with a victory, Durant had his worst game of the season. He scored just 15 points on 21 shot attempts, scoring less than 25 points for the first time in four months.
The Grizzlies’ Tony Allen has done his best to disrupt Durant’s rhythm. The 25-year-old has even admitted that the renowned defender has gotten into his head.
"I'm worrying about a guy coming from behind trying to block the shot," Durant said, via espn.com. "I've just got to focus in on the rim and my shot. I can't go out there and think too much, I have to let my instincts take over."
Last year, the Grizzlies ousted the Thunder in the second round in five games. Allen was a big part of that effort, as he and the rest of the Memphis defense did their best to limit Durant. In Oklahoma City’s final two losses of the 2013 playoffs, Durant was held to 15-of-48 shooting. This season, point guard Russell Westbrook is healthy, but he’s been held in check, shooting just 35.1 percent from the field.
Memphis doesn’t rely on one or two stars for the majority of their scoring. Five of their players are averaging more than 10 points per game this series, led by Zach Randolph at 18.3 points a game. If the Grizzlies can continue to stifle Durant and Westbrook, they could steal Game Five on the road.
The point spread at Las Vegas casinos has the Thunder listed as decided favorites. They are giving the Grizzlies seven points. The over/under has been set at 186.
The contest is set to start at 9 p.m. ET at Chesapeake Energy Arena. NBATV will have the national broadcast.
Prediction: Memphis 97, Oklahoma City 94