The game started with a major lineup shakeup. It had to with Zach Randolph’s suspension. Dave Joeger opted to go small with Tony Allen in the starting lineup in Randolph’s place rather than another post player.
Memphis decided to change its character. The Grizzlies were actually pushing the pace and trying to outscore the Thunder. It was out of sheer desperation this roster switch and philosophy switch was made. Losing Randolph had that affect on the team.
And it finally unleashed the Thunder.
Memphis took the lead early but had no hopes of keeping up that pace once Oklahoma City adjusted. The Thunder got a triple double from Russell Westbrook and blew the doors out on the Grizzlies 120-109 to advance to the second round.
Westbrook scored 27 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out 16 assists. He finally looked like his healthy self after a year of dealing with rehab and caution with his knee injury. He finally had the space to create for himself and his teammates. And he was simply dialed in.
Kevin Durant too finally broke free from Tony Allen. Durant scored 33 points on an efficient 12 of 18, including hitting on all five of his 3-pointers. This was the game Durant struggled to have throughout the series against this Grizzlies defense.
By going small, Memphis played right into Oklahoma City’s hands for the long term of the game. The Thunder had 22 fast break points and controlled the pace. The Grizzlies allowed them too to fit this new roster reality. The Grizzlies had to play flawless. When they forced turnovers early, they did play flawless. That stopped and the Thunder just pushed and pushed.
Marc Gasol had 24 points and Mike Conley had 20 points and nine assists. The Grizzlies were game and fought as they always did. But their identity had to change without their heart in there. And you need that heart in Game Seven.