Quantcast 2011 NBA Western Conference Playoffs: Semifinals- Memphis vs Oklahoma City


2011 NBA Playoff Preview – Semifinals Preview

NBA Playoffs Western Conference Semifinal Preview - (8) Memphis Grizzlies vs. (4) Oklahoma City Thunder


The roster of number eight seeds that have beaten top seeds in the first round of the NBA playoffs is very small, so it’s not a terribly difficult exercise to make historical comparisons when sizing up the second-round series between the upstart Memphis Grizzlies and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

In 1994, the Denver Nuggets – the first team to topple a top seed in round one – basked in the glow of their victory over the Seattle Supersonics and took their number eight seed to Salt Lake City. Denver faced the fourth-rated Utah Jazz in the first-ever “eight versus four” conference semifinal the NBA had ever witnessed. Denver fell behind three games to none but then rallied to force a Game 7 in Utah. The Jazz, on the verge of becoming the first team in NBA history to lose a series after leading by three games, found enough backbone to win the decider on their home floor. Clearly, though, the presence of an eighth-seeded team did not ensure safe passage for the favorite.

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In 2007, after the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors upended the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks, the fourth-seeded Jazz were once again the beneficiaries of some rare NBA bracket busting. Golden State threatened to steal an early game in Utah, but when the Jazz barely fended off the Warriors in Game 2, the favorite established control of the series. The Jazz eventually won in five games, running their franchise record to 2-0 over No. 8 seeds.

Now, however, there’s a fourth seed other than the Jazz which will face a “great eight” in the Western Conference semifinals (notice that the East has never experienced such a revolution). The Oklahoma City Thunder – who have to be very grateful that they lost the battle with the Dallas Mavericks for the third seed (the Mavs must play the Los Angeles Lakers as a result) – stand in the way of the Memphis Grizzlies, who are fresh from their conquest of the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs.

How much of a chance does Memphis have in this series? Let’s put it this way: The Grizzlies are more like the 1994 Nuggets than the 2007 Warriors in both style and competitiveness. Memphis has the rugged inside presence to match Oklahoma City. Coach Lionel Hollins has the Grizzlies playing inspired defense, and the eighth seed won most of the 50-50 balls in six games against a Spurs team with championship credentials. If this series is a short series, each individual game should still be closely contested, as was the case in Oklahoma City’s not-so-lopsided five-game dismissal of the Denver Nuggets in round one of the 2011 playoffs.



The area where Memphis has no answer for Oklahoma City is on the perimeter. At the point, Thunder guard Russell Westbrook owns a far bigger toolbox of skills – and a lot more quickness – than his counterpart, Memphis floor general Mike Conley. Then, of course, Oklahoma City also boasts the best player on the floor in this series, the lethal Kevin Durant, who played the part of a top-tier superstar on Wednesday night when the Thunder eliminated the Nuggets in Game 5. Memphis forward Zach Randolph might match Durant in terms of production, but Durant’s clutch shotmaking ability is second to only one man in the NBA, and that’s Kobe Bryant. Oklahoma City has the best closer on the court, and that’s something Memphis will have a hard time dealing with.

In the final analysis, the key to the series will be the mindset of the Thunder. Oklahoma City is not an old team like San Antonio. The Thunder won’t be outgunned by the Grizzlies. This means that the fourth seed’s patience and prudence will be tested. Westbrook needs to make good decisions and allow Durant to be the meal ticket. Also, the Thunder can’t suffer the three- or four-minute lapses that dogged them at times in the Denver series over the past two weeks. Memphis has the ability to spring an upset, but if Oklahoma City plays intelligently, the Thunder are going to reach their first-ever Western Conference Finals series.  


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By: Matt Zemek
Pro Basketball Fans Staff Writer

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