Thunder Expects Long, Physical Series With Grizzlies

Like two fighters coming out of their corners to meet in the middle of the ring, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies are gearing up for an old-fashioned, slug-fest of a playoff series.

“We have to be able to play physical,” said Thunder power forward Nick Collison, who isn’t shy about mixing it up under the basket. “They’re one of the most physical teams in the NBA at all positions. They want to play in the paint, they want to pound it inside and get offensive rebounds. So we need to meet their guys early and be the first hitter on a lot of plays.”

Game 1 of the best-of-seven second round series is at noon Sunday in the Oklahoma City Arena. The game will be broadcast live on ABC-TV and the Thunder Radio Network.

Collison sounds more like a linebacker than a power forward when talking about this match-up, but that’s clearly the attitude you have to take with the Grizzlies and especially their power forward, Zach Randolph.

“He’s just relentless. He’s probably the best guy in the league at getting position and sealing (off his defender)," Collison said. "Then just his physicality. He’s good at getting into your body and making it hard for you to jump.”

Randolph led the eighth-seeded Grizzlies to a 4-2 first-round upset of top-seeded San Antonio. He is the focus of the Thunder defense.

“First of all, he’s smart,” said Serge Ibaka, who moved into the starting power forward role on Feb. 25. “Plus, he’s big and strong and can move his feet well, so it’s going to be tough. I just have to be focused and do my best.”

Ibaka has been turned loose more on defense with the trade-deadline arrival of center Kendrick Perkins. Perkins will try to handle Memphis center Marc Gasol by himself, leaving Ibaka free to deal with Randolph.

“Yeah he (Perkins) will help a lot,” Ibaka agreed. “With a big body like his, it will be interesting tomorrow.”

The Thunder and Grizzlies played four times in the regular season, with the Grizzlies winning three games. But this is the first time the Grizzlies will see Perkins in a Thunder uniform.

“It’s definitely going to help,” Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks said. “Memphis is one of the biggest teams in basketball. They have size and strength and toughness. They’re the best scoring team in the paint, so we have got to keep them out of there as much as we can. Perk does a good job of plugging up the middle and helping us down low.”

Though Ibaka will get the first crack at slowing Randolph down, the second-year forward from the Congo won’t be alone. “Perk, Nick (Collison) and Naz (Mohammed), everybody’s going to get an opportunity to play against him,” Brooks told reporters.

The last time these two teams played -- March 7 in Memphis -- Randolph took only nine shots. Sunday, limiting his touches and maybe even more important, where on the court he gets his touches, will be key.

“Serge is going to have to do a great job of keeping him off the boards and keeping him out of the lower-post area,” Brooks said. “But it’s hard. Everybody says that every game and he still finds a way.”

Randolph certainly keys the Grizzlies offense, but at the other end of the floor the Thunder will have to contend with two of the league’s better defenders, former Oklahoma State star Tony Allen and Shane Battier. Those two will probably be locked in on Thunder forward Kevin Durant.

“(Allen) brings toughness, he’s as tough as nails,” Brooks said. “He’s going to always be in on plays because he never quits and (Battier) is one of the best perimeter defenders, he’s a smart position defender and he’s a terrific 3-point shooter.”

Both teams come into the series on a big-time rolls. The Thunder eliminated the Denver Nuggets in five games and the Grizzlies needed six to dispatch the No. 1 seed. Home court advantage, which belongs to the Thunder, will likely be a huge influence in a series that matches two of the youngest teams and features two of the most vocal fan bases.

When asked if this is a series that will go seven games, Collison answered: “I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened. I think you always go into a series knowing it’s going to be difficult and you’re going to have to fight for every game. The best we can do is just be ready to go at tipoff, play that game and be ready for the next one.”

“It’s always important to have (home court advantage),” Brooks said. “But you have to take advantage of it. It doesn’t guarantee a win, but it certainly helps. That last game against Denver, the crowd (at Oklahoma City Arena) was just off the charts.”

Thunder players and coaches will be looking for the same type of atmosphere Sunday at high noon.


TALE OF THE TAPE

The Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies played four times in the regular season. The Grizzlies won three games, but a total of six points is all that separated the two teams after 197 minutes of action including one five-minute overtime session.

SCORING REBOUNDS ASSISTS STLS BLKS FG% 3FG% FT%
THUNDER 104 42.5
(10.75-OFF, 31.75-DEF)
20.5 5 7.25 47.9 34.3 76.85
GRIZZLIES 105.5 39.25
(12.5-OFF, 26.75-DEF)
20.5 9.25 6.5 47.9 23 69.1
QUARTER-BY-QUARTER 1 2 3 4 OT
THUNDER 26.25 24.75 20.5 26.5 6
GRIZZLIES 25 26 26.25 25.75 10