by Sam Riches / @sam_riches
Four games and four overtimes later, the most intriguing match-up of the postseason continues in Oklahoma City tonight. In a clash of physicality and athleticism, the young Memphis Grizzlies and the Oklahoma City Thunder continue a team defining battle.
For Memphis, the series represents a franchise awakening and player maturity, while for Oklahoma City, the stakes are even higher. Kevin Durant is the centerpiece and building block of the team but Russell Westbrook is determined not to be just along for the ride. The athletic guard has been putting the weight of the team on his shoulders, for better or for worse. After his game four performance, head coach Scott Brooks said he makes everyone better. The critics said he was playing beyond his role.
But the series features more than just young players going through growing pains. It also features two coaches testing their playbooks on the biggest stage of their careers.
“If this is a so-called chess match, then the grand masters on the benches are out of moves. Lionel Hollins went small with his Grizzlies. Scott Brooks went small with his Thunder. Hollins went big. Brooks went big. In Game 4, they went until just short of 1 a.m. in what practically became an all-night pick-up game.
‘It’s a dogfight of a series,’ Hollins said. ‘Nobody said this series is going to be easy (with either team winning) 4-1 or 4-2. We’re playing with a lot of heart and it showed in the last two games.
It’s just the will to keep competing. You’re down 10 with five minutes to go and you just keep competing. You’re dead in the water after being down early and you keep fighting. That’s what the playoffs have always been about. Both teams have demonstrated that.’
Who expected the Thunder to get up off the floor after the Grizzlies landed that early haymaker on Monday night and got them down by 18? Who expected the Thunder to ultimately win the battle in the paint 56-50 after the Grizzlies pounded them 20-6 in the first quarter?
‘Anyone who knows what’s going to happen in this series, they’re full of it,’ said the Grizzlies’ Shane Battier. ‘Because they don’t.'”
The differing opinions about how these games unfold will only grow in strength as the series continues, but this surprise match-up of the Playoffs may just be exactly what the NBA needs. With a lockout possibility ever present, the NBA has already lost the lustre of some of it’s biggest names this postseason. This series has allowed for two often overlooked squads to rise to the top and demand national attention.