No rest for Grizzlies, Thunder
Posted: Wednesday, May 11, 2011 9:11 pm
By: By JEFF LATZKE, AP Sports Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Scott Brooks knows what he’s up against in trying to keep his young, eager Oklahoma City Thunder team off the basketball court for a whole day.
Even if that day started with the final stretch of a triple-overtime playoff thriller, a round of postgame interviews and a flight that didn’t get back to Oklahoma City until around 3:30 a.m.
“They will come in and do too much, but that’s fine. They always do,” Brooks said Tuesday. “That’s what makes them players and the team that we are. Guys believe in coming in and working. Either they lift weights, get some shots up or work on their bodies on some of the aches and pains that you go through and everybody has.”
Less than 14 hours after their marathon 133-123 victory in Game 4 at Memphis, Serge Ibaka and Nate Robinson were out shooting and Kevin Durant and other teammates were in the building while Brooks met with reporters. Two hours later, there were still sneakers squeaking in a closed gym on what was supposed to be mostly an off day for both teams.
Neither was holding a formal practice. The Grizzlies traveled in the afternoon, gathering at the airport and watching film on the plane before Game 5 Wednesday night in Oklahoma City.
“It’s not a lot of rest but it’s not a lot for each team,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said. “I’m sure they’ll have a little more bounce in their step being at home and having won this game versus us having lost it. But we’ll be there.”
Memphis guard O.J. Mayo said it would “be a tough challenge, but if I pick any group to go on the road with an obstacle and a challenge like that, this is the group I’d like to go in there with.”
Instead of taking a commanding 3-1 lead with a chance to close out the series in front of a sold-out FedEx Forum in Game 6, they’ll need to win again at the Oklahoma City Arena — where they won once in the regular season and again in Game 1.
“It feels much better being 2-2 and Game 5 on our home floor. It would have been a tough mountain to climb being down 3-1. Not impossible, but very tough,” Brooks said. “We’re excited. Guys, there’s plenty of energy in their bodies. They’re going to have energy.”
After four games — and two wins apiece — Memphis has outscored Oklahoma City by just 2 points, 440-438. The teams are also about even in steals (36-32 Grizzlies), blocks (32-31 Grizzlies) and 3-point shooting (both around 31 percent). Oklahoma City holds a slight edge in shooting percentage from the field and foul line, which the Grizzlies have counteracted by grabbing 17 more offensive rebounds.
“We’re very even as you can see. Every game has really showed that,” Brooks said. “Both teams are very good and both teams, it’s even. It’s even. It’s why we’re 2-2. It’s two very good teams getting after each other.”
The Thunder trailed by 18 in the first half of Game 4 before rallying to take a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, only to have Memphis tie it up on a late 3-pointer by Mike Conley. Oklahoma City had chances to win in the final seconds of regulation, the first overtime and the second overtime before Durant finally took over.
“It was a great win for us,” Brooks said. “We’re very excited. It was a crazy environment. It was a lot of energy in the building and we came out and won the game, but that has no impact on Game 5. We have to do it all over again.
“We have to play with the same amount of force and toughness that it’s going to take to beat this team.”
The Grizzlies did their best to make Durant’s teammates beat them in Game 4, deploying Shane Battier and Tony Allen to deny him the ball with a good deal of success during a stretch from midway through the fourth quarter through the second overtime.
Russell Westbrook picked up the slack, scoring a postseason career-high 40 points on 33 shots, and Brooks said he was comfortable with the NBA’s scoring champion being a bit of an outsider on the offensive end in crunch time until he hit two shots in the final minute to finally put the game away.
“When you put a guy on Kevin, that means that guy’s not helping. They’re not leaving Kevin. And when they throw an extra defender on Kevin, that means you have a mini fast break on the weak side, and that allows Russell and our guys to create,” Brooks said.
“Sometimes your best scorer also has to be a decoy. It’s not about getting shots for Kevin. It’s about getting opportunities for all the other guys, and Kevin’s fine with that.”
Once Conley and Mayo fouled out late in the first overtime, the Grizzlies were left to rely on big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, who combined for 60 points and 37 rebounds but eventually wore down.
“(Randolph’s) a terrific player. I know he’s going to come back with the same amount of force that he plays with,” Brooks said.
“We have to do it again for 48 minutes — hopefully only 48 minutes tomorrow.”
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed to this report from Memphis, Tenn.