Time To Do What Has To Be Done

“We know we need to win there without a doubt,” Thunder forward Nick Collison told reporters this week about the challenge in Memphis over the next three days. “We’ll focus on that in the first game (today) and no matter what happens we’ll do it again the next game (Monday).”

It’s not going to be easy. The Grizzlies have been very good since the second half of the regular season, they’ve been outstanding in the playoffs. Their fans have stepped it up too. Memphis has sold out more games in just the playoffs than in the entire regular season.

“We expect it to be crazy, similar to our crowd,” Collison said, “I don’t know if pros get shook on the road but it’s harder to compete against a team that’s really got it rolling at home.”

A lot of players and coaches will tell you it’s more fun to play in a building where the fans are engaged than in one where they aren’t. This will be the first time Thunder players have experienced a wild atmosphere inside FedExForum.

“Guys like to play in buildings that have energy,” said Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks, “But as the game goes on you block out the crowd, you block out the noise. You’re so focused on doing your job and helping your team move forward that noise doesn’t play as big a role as you’d think.”

The Thunder has been a good road team all season. They won 25 games away from Oklahoma City Arena in the regular season and took one of the two road games played in Denver during the first round of the playoffs. Only four teams (Chicago, Miami, Dallas and the Lakers) won more regular season road games than the Thunder.

“To play in the playoffs is fun to play on the road is even better,” said Kevin Durant. “As a competitor you like to quiet the crowd, you like to play off the crowd. We’ve got a little bit more motivation to go in there and try to do to them what they did to us, beat us on our home floor.”

To accomplish that the Thunder will have to do what they did in Game Two, play with extreme effort, energy and execution especially on defense. In Game One the Grizzlies controlled the tempo from the beginning, they took the lead for good in the first three minutes of the game with power forward Zach Randolph scoring his team’s first seven points on his way to 34 on the night.

In Game Two Randolph couldn’t do anything from the field (2-for-13) and was effective only at the free throw line (11 points).

“I just wanted to keep his catches further out on the block and try to be physical with him,” Collison said this week about his defense on Randolph. “He’s gonna score, he’s gonna make shots, he’s gonna be tough in all the rest of the games because I’m sure he feels he can play better so I just have to continue to try and compete.”

Game One was controlled by Memphis point guard Mike Conley getting the ball into his big men, Randolph and center Marc Gasol and then those two scoring almost at will. In Game Two the Thunder shut down both big men but that gave Conley opportunities from outside and he took advantage (24 points). The Thunder will live with that though if they can keep the two bigs in check.

“He (Conley) made eight jump shots last game,” Brooks noted, “three 3’s and five tough 2’s we have to live with that we don’t want him creating havoc inside the paint in knocking off passes to their bigs or with his drive and kick game for easy scores. So if he does take those shots, we’ll try to do a better job of contesting them, maybe get a step closer but he’s developed into a nice shooter.”

Both teams have had three days of practice to work on adjustments for Game Three. The Grizzlies have said they want to do a better job on their ball movement and offensive spacing and that’s no surprise to Brooks.

“I think all coaches are concerned with spacing and I’m no different. When we’re good offensively the floor is spaced, the ball is moving, the shots are easier to come by but our job on defense is not to allow those things to happen.”

Of course whether it was the Grizzlies offense that failed to get into the proper positions or the Thunder defense that wouldn’t allow that to happen is a matter of opinion.

“We did a poor job of giving (Randolph and Gasol) alleys to work with,” Memphis point guard Mike Conley told reporters Thursday, “we worked on that and refreshed our memories. Guys just have to give better spacing.”

“I thought our defense was good,” countered Brooks on Friday, “I like what we did and we’re gonna have to keep doing it. We have to keep knocking them off their spots.”

The Thunder flew into Memphis yesterday afternoon and because of the early start time (4 PM) the team will not have a morning shoot-around. Players will meet with the coaches for a film session before heading to the arena.

You can watch all the action on ESPN or listen in on the Thunder Radio Network.