May 1, 2014; Memphis, TN, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Caron Butler (2) and Memphis Grizzlies forward James Johnson (3) go after a loose ball in game six of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at FedExForum. The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 104-84. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

2014 NBA Playoffs: OKC Thunder vs Memphis Grizzlies Game 7 Preview


 OKC Thunder vs Memphis Grizzlies Game 7 Preview

As I started writing this preview, news broke the NBA had suspended Zach Randolph for Game 7 after punching Steven Adams in the throat late in Game 6. Shortly before that, I had found out Mike Conley could miss the game because of his hamstring injury. How could this get any worse for Memphis fans?

For me, I guess it makes my job easier, and it looks like I can stop writing now. The Thunder are obviously going to win…

Not so fast. You think the Grizzlies are going to roll over just because they aren’t at full strength? Don’t count on that happening. Memphis might get beat in Game 7, but I guarantee they will, at the very least, go down swinging.

Let me try that sentence again:

The Grizz might get beat in Game 7, but they won’t go down with out a fight.

One more try:

The Thunder have a huge advantage to win the series, but I’m still giving Memphis a puncher’s chance.

BOOM!

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.  Seriously though, this series is still far from over.

How do the Grizzlies replace Z-Bo and Conley (if he doesn’t play)?

Randolph has been the Grizzlies leading scorer in the series, averaging 18.2 points and nearly nine rebounds per game. That will be tough to replace. Plus, Randolph scored the first eight points in Game 6 for Memphis, and he was the only reason the game was kept competitive in the first half.

I think Memphis has the depth to beat the Thunder in Game 7, though. It won’t be easy, but with so many injuries throughout the season, Memphis had the opportunity to sign new guys and tinker with lineups to find the right combination for the playoffs. Head Coach Dave Joerger has a lot of options to help fill Randolph’s absence:

Ed Davis

The likely replacement for Randolph, Davis, might not have the offensive skill set Randolph does. But defensively, Davis is longer and more active than Randolph, which could bode well for keeping the Thunder’s third offensive option, Serge Ibaka, out of the game.

Kosta Koufos

Koufos is a luxury off the bench for Memphis because he has playoff experience with the Nuggets, and he could probably start for a lot teams. Koufos could make some noise in this game.

Jon Leuer

Leuer hasn’t played much in the series, but he filled in most of the year while Gasol was injured and on a minutes restriction. He can score inside and outside. He’ll surely see more playing time in Game 7 because he might be able to create a mismatch with Perkins and help carry some of the scoring load.

James Johnson 

Johnson destroyed all opposition for about one month before being moved to the end of the bench at the end of the season when Joerger set the rotation for the playoffs. Johnson has the ability to be the x-factor. Without Conley and Randolph, someone has to score. Johnson might be the only one who has that ability to carry the Grizzlies and keep pace with the Thunder. If Johnson becomes the Human Torch, Memphis has a chance.

Regardless of how you feel about the suspension, and I hate it as much as anyone, Z-Bo did punch Adams in the throat. As we’ve seen, you can’t do that anymore.

Stop Durant!

Before we look into Game 7 for Durant, I want to look back at Game 6 and how Durant responded to the “Mr. Unreliable” headline from The Oklahoman.

You have to wonder if that headline was a calculated attempt to light a fire under Durant and stop his passive offensive attack. Think about it. Obviously, everyone at The Oklahoman wasn’t behind the plan because the paper issued an apology for the headline after the media and twitter-verse EXPLODED.

Maybe, just maybe, that junior copy editor who wrote the headline was on to something. Maybe he knew that headline was going to fire up Durant and give the Thunder what they needed to bring the series back to OKC for Game 7. I know it’s a stretch, but Durant played with a certain tenacity that’d been missing for Games 3, 4, and 5.

Heading into Game 7, I don’t expect many adjustments from Memphis. They’re playing shorthanded without Conley and Z-Bo. Coach Joerger proved he doesn’t give a rip about Durant dominating Prince because he left Prince on Durant for the entire first quarter while Durant was abusing him.

If I was Joerger, every minute Durant was on the court, I’d have Tony Allen shadowing him everywhere he went. Even when the Grizzlies are on offense, I ‘d want Allen seeking out Durant to drill him with a screen. It’s Game 7, why not try it? Memphis has literally nothing to lose at this point.

If Allen can hold Durant to another 15-point, 5-of-21 shooting night, Memphis could steal the series.

More than anything, the Grizzlies need to make outside shots

Before I heard Z-Bo was suspended, I thought Memphis was going to need at least eight 3-pointers to go in for them to win. Now, I’d say they’ll need about 10 or more to fall to have a chance.

This season, unlike in past seasons, Memphis has the shooters to make it happen. Mike Miller torched the Thunder two years ago in the Finals. He stepped up when Miami needed him, and he’ll have to do the same for Memphis if they want to win. Other plays like Courtney Lee, Prince, Johnson, Udrih, and Conley, if he plays, have to knock down outside shots, and they have the ability to do it.

Memphis may have missed their chance in Game 6, but they’ve battled adversity all season. This is just another one of those opportunities for a “no-names” to step up. On Saturday, we’ll see if Memphis as any of those guys.

Personally, I’m rooting for the Thunder to choke. The NBA needs a new “Choke City,” why can’t it be Oklahoma City?

Tags: Game 7 Memphis Grizzlies NBA NBA Playoffs Oklahoma City Thunder