The Memphis Grizzlies became just the second number eight seed to defeat a number one seed in a seven-game series. They completed this rare feat with a 99-91 Game 6 victory over the San Antonio Spurs and advanced to the Western Conference Semifinals for the first time in franchise history.
The Grizzlies, who had been swept in all three of their previous playoff appearances, will meet the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs. The Thunder advanced to the semifinals by defeating the Denver Nuggets 4-1 in their first-round matchup.
The teams met four times during the regular season with the Grizzlies winning the series 3-1. The NBA Conference Semifinals will open on Sunday, May 1, when the Oklahoma City Thunder host the Memphis Grizzlies.
Oklahoma City Thunder versus Memphis Grizzlies Western Conference Semifinals Schedule
Game 1: Sunday, May 1, Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder, 1:00 p.m. ET
Game 2: Tuesday, May 3, Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder, 9:30 p.m. ET
Game 3: Saturday, May 7, Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies, 5:00 p.m. ET
Game 4: Monday, May 9, Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies, 6:30 p.m. ET
Game 5: Wednesday, May 11, Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder, TBD (if necessary)
Game 6: Friday, May 13, Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies, TBD (if necessary)
Game 7: Sunday, May 15, Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder, TBD (if necessary)
This series features two young, athletic teams who are likely to be regular Western Conference Playoff participants for the next few years. The Grizzlies rely on the inside play of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, while the Thunder count on the perimeter play of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
The Grizzlies will initiate their offense by dumping the ball into either Gasol or Randolph. The Thunder will use Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins (who did not play in any of the four regular season games) to defend Memphis’ initial post ups.
Perkins is a solid one-on-one post defender, but Ibaka is primarily a weakside help defender who will be tested by Gasol and Randolph. If he stays disciplined and focuses on his primary defensive assignment, Ibaka’s length and athleticism could bother Memphis’ frontline. But if he goes searching for weakside shot blocks that will leave lanes available for his man to hit the offensive glass. During the regular season, Gasol and Randolph were the best offensive rebounding duo in the NBA (6.2 per game). Ibaka will have to stay at home to limit Memphis’ second chance opportunities.
The Thunder’s offensive attack begins with their All-Star duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. How and whether the Grizzlies can defend Durant and Westbrook will be the key to the series. Tony Allen and Shane Battier are solid wing defenders Memphis can use to guard Durant, but they have no one with enough quickness to keep Russell Westbrook out of the lane.
Memphis Coach Lionel Hollins will have to devise a defensive scheme to limit Durant’s touches and Westbrook’s penetration; good luck. However, one thing the Grizzlies do well that may benefit them in this endeavor is force turnovers. They forced an NBA-best 16.7 turnovers per game during the regular season, and if they can force the Thunder, particularly Westbrook, into mishandling the basketball they will remain competitive in this series.
This might turn out to be the most interesting and compelling series of the NBA Conference Semifinals. But in the end, the Thunder have a little more athleticism, a little more experience, and hold home-court advantage, and in the playoffs a little more is usually just enough.
Prediction: Thunder 4-3
More on the 2010-2011 NBA Postseason:
Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics Eastern Conference semifinals matchup: Fan’s view
2011 NBA Playoff Power Rankings
One Fan’s NBA Season Awards and All-NBA Teams
Information from ESPN’s San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies – Recap – April 29, 2011, Oklahoma City Thunder 2011 Schedule, 2010-11 Regular Season NBA Player Stats and 2010-11 Regular Season Team Stats was used for this article.