When LeBron James and Chris Bosh took their talents to South Beach, many in the league imagined a team that would be very strong on both sides of the court. They would fly at the basket and score at will. They would guard with a passion. They would impose their physical will on opponents and nobody could do anthing about it. That's what we saw on the first day of second round action in the NBA playoffs. Except, we saw it from the Memphis Grizzlies!
Hey, Miami played great too. We'll talk about them in a second. But, the jaw dropper of the day came in the early game...when the Memphis Grizzlies simply manhandled the favored Oklahoma City Thunder. You don't often use the phrase "men against boys" in the NBA. And, we may not see anything quite like this again the rest of the way. But, for 48 minutes on the first Sunday of May, the Memphis Grizzlies pushed, and shoved, and bullied their way to shockingly easy 114-101 road victory.
MEMPHIS 114, OKLAHOMA CITY 101
2-point pct: Memphis 51%, Oklahoma City 45%
3-pointers: Memphis 3/8, Oklahoma City 6/14
Rebounds: Memphis 45, Oklahoma City 42
Turnovers: Memphis 7, Oklahoma City 18
1's and 2's: Memphis 105, Oklahoma City 83
Memphis became the first team in the playoffs this year to top the century mark on 1's and 2's. They were a force inside, the likes of which we haven't seen yet (except from them in the first round!). OKC just seemed to bounce off of them and fall by the wayside whenever Memphis needed a basket. Or, worse, Memphis passed the ball around well beore finding a guy all alone underneath the hoop for a dunk or lay-in.
BEST "1'S AND 2'S" TOTALS THIS YEAR IN PLAYOFFS
Memphis 105 today vs. Oklahoma City
New Orleans 97 in Game 1 vs. the Lakers (Paul's masterpiece)
Memphis 96 in Game 6 vs. San Antonio
Memphis 94 in Game 5 vs. San Antonio
Boston 92 in Game 4 vs. New York
Denver 91 in Game 1 vs. Oklahoma City
Memphis shows up three times on that list, sandwiched around Chris Paul's huge series opener in LA when the Lakers played some of the most passive defense ever recorded (3 forced turnovers). Boston is on this list against shorthanded New York after the Knicks gave up. Oklahoma City shows up defensively in that awful first game performance in the paint vs. Denver that they were able to salvage late.
It's good news for OKC that they recovered from that debacle to win the series. But, Memphis is much more physical than Denver...and, unlike the Nuggets they have a plan late in close games. The right word may be "relentless." Memphis just keeps pushing its way toward the basket daring anyone to deny them.
What was so interesting today wasn't just the bullying on offense. Memphis continued to show the value of forcing turnovers on defense. We've talked about this since first noting their off-the-charts excellence during the regular season. If you watched the game, you saw several strip steals and guys constantly darting into passing lanes. Memphis won the stat 18-7, meaning they had 11 fewer wasted possessions. You can do a lot of damage with extra opportunities when you've got bullies in the paint.
I'm trying to find the right metaphor. Maybe the Green Bay Packers offense from the Vince Lombardi era...and last year's New York Jets defense...all rolled into one basketball team. Brute force on offense, and a disruptive defense that takes the ball away.
Now, a team like that is a good bet to win a championship. But, it's tough to say right now that Memphis is truly that team. Oklahoma City made them LOOK that good today.
Bouncing back in the series doesn't involve any mysteries. The Thunder have to get tougher inside (which they did vs. Denver). Russell Westbrook has to get over his Kobe complex and stop trying to force everything before getting frustrated at the drop of a hat.
GETTING TOUGHER INSIDE VS. DENVER
Game One: 57% allowed on 2-pointers
Game Two: 38% allowed on 2-pointers
Game Three: 42% allowed on 2-pointers
Game Four: 36% allowed on 2-pointers
Game five: 47% allowed on 2-pointers
That was three stellar games in a row after the soft performance they survived in the series opener. OKC started to slack back off in Game Five, but that was okay because they outrebounded Denver 35-4 in the defensive zone that night. Today, they only outrebounded Memphis 26-17 in the defensive zone. Awful.
Westbrook's patience? Let's create a "patience index" for him and see what develops. For now, I'll add missed shots, turnovers, and personal fouls, because those things seem to follow him around when he gets frustrated.
WESTBROOK'S "PATIENCE INDEX"
Game One Denver: 18
Game Two Denver: 21
Game Three Denver: 15
Game Four Denver: 26 (loss)
Game Five Denver: 18
Game One Memphis: 26 (loss)
Obviously mid 20's is awful. And, it's hard to be impressed with some of those others even though OKC was winning. Westbrook hasn't topped 40% from the floor since Game One. And, he's got a "Shoot first, tell me what a great scorer Kevin Durant is later" mentality at the moment...which is a big problem if you're not breaking 40% from the floor!
Game Two is Tuesday night in Oklahoma City. After the service break, the ball is clearly in the Thunder's court.
MIAMI 99, BOSTON 90
2-point pct: Boston 39%, Miami 47%
3-pointers: Boston 12/24, Miami 9/19
Rebounds: Boston 39, Miami 39
Turnovers: Boston 13, Miami 16
1's and 2's: Boston 54, Miami 72
Odd game. It's dangerous to draw conclusions from odd games. Both teams shot lights out from long range in a way that's not likely to be replicated often. Both teams will probably do that at least once more. But, you don't know when and where it's going to happen. Yes, Ray Allen is a majestic shooter. But, if he could lead the team to 12 of 24 on command he'd do it every game. James Jones of Miami going 5 of 7 on the way to 25 points? Talk about a wildcard hitting the deck.
Let's give both teams 7 treys today and see what it does to the score. That would make it Miami 93, Boston 75...with the edge triggered by Dywane Wade's huge performance (12 of 16 on two-point shots), and a big edge in free throws. Didn't run those earlier. Let me fix that now.
Free Throws: Boston 14/18, Miami 26/32
Is that a fair assessment of expectations going forward. Miami controls the fundamentals and Boston has to hit a bunch of treys just to stay in the game? NO!
Rajon Rondo only played 8 minutes of the first half because he got into foul trouble (3 fouls in those 8 minutes). Boston dug a hole in his absence. Rondo played all 24 minutes of the second half, and earned a plus/minus of +7 for the game.
So, Boston won by 7 Sunday with Rondo on the floor.
I read a lot of previews in various places for this series. Everyone was saying the same general things regardless of whether they picked Boston or Miami. This game doesn't really change anything. Boston fans can take solace in the fact that Rondo will get more minutes from now on, and Jones probably isn't Robert Horry just yet. Miami fans can be happy that they won despite LeBron James and Chris Bosh having sub-par games (the two were 11 of 30 from the floor).
Miami draws first blood. But, it many ways, it doesn't feel like the series has even started yet. Chapter One introduced a few red herrings.
Back late Monday night as the second round continues...