Grizzlies upend Thunder, take Game 1

Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins (5) moves to the lane against Memphis Grizzlies’ forward Zach Randolph (50) during the first half of Game 1 of the second round of the Western Conference NBA basketball playoff in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, May 1, 2011. REUTERS/Steve Sisney (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

This Memphis team deserves a lot of credit. The Grizzlies are playing some very good basketball right now on both ends of the court. In Sunday’s Game 1, they allowed Kevin Durant (33 points) and Russell Westbrook (29 points) to get theirs, but they turned the Thunder over 18 times, which led to a +11 margin in shot attempts, and that turned out to be the difference in the game.

I’ve been harping on Russell Westbrook for a while, but the more I see him play, the more I realize that he’s simply not a point guard. He should play off guard a la Dwyane Wade. That way, he’d still be able to be a big part of the offense, but he wouldn’t be responsible for handling the ball all the time and setting his teammates up, two things that he struggles with. He had seven turnovers and 14 missed shots, so there’s 21 possessions where the Thunder didn’t score. He also gets stuck defensively on ball screens, and if he was playing more off guard, he’d be chasing screens off the ball, an area at which he excels. That said, the Thunder passed on Ricky Rubio and Stephen Curry in the ’09 draft and they don’t seem poised to move Westbrook off the ball anytime soon.

But back to the Grizzlies. Zach Randolph may be playing the best basketball in the playoffs right now. He scored 34 points and snagged 10 rebounds, while Marc Gasol went for 20-13 on 9-of-11 shooting. What’s interesting about this pair is that they wouldn’t be in Memphis if not for owner Michael Heisley’s decision to trade Pau Gasol to the Lakers a few years ago. Marc Gasol came over in the trade, but no one thought he would develop into the all-around big man that he has become. The Grizzlies were able to afford the trade for Randolph since they had the cap space left by the Pau Gasol trade.

At the time, the acquisition of Randolph didn’t look very promising considering he was overpaid and underachieving. But he has settled in nicely in Memphis and the duo have formed one of the best one-two frontcourt punches in the league. The Pau Gasol trade was still terrible on paper, but it has since worked out for both teams (albeit more so for the Lakers).

Game 2 of the series is on Tuesday night on TNT.

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