Game Seven Preview: This is Happening



Grizzlies-Thunder. Game Seven. 2:30 p.m. ABC.

Five thoughts ahead of the action:

Matching the Energy: The Grizzlies fed off crowd energy in Game 6. Now Oklahoma City will have a raucous home crowd at their backs. Look for the Thunder to open the game with a burst of energy. The Grizzlies will have to match it. Obvious, but still key.

Putting the Best Lineups on the Floor/Shrinking the Rotation: My pre-game for Game 6 was in large part about how the team had faired in the post-season with different combinations of players on the wing and about how the most-common lineups (Tony Allen and Sam Young) were not the most effective (O.J. Mayo and Shane Battier, Mayo and Allen). I called for lineup and rotation changes and though I'm sure that had nothing to do with the outcome, we got them: Mayo and Allen started, Mayo and Battier mostly closed, and, interestingly, the Allen/Young combo never played together. The result was good for Zach Randolph and good for the team.

My quick calculation of the Game 6 plus/minus for each wing combo:

Mayo/Allen: +7

Mayo/Battier: +17

Allen/Battier: +1

Young/Battier: +1

Mayo/Young: -12

Mayo will start again today. Playing on the road in an elimination game with little margin for error, I'd contend that the team needs to shrink the rotation. Let Sam Young join Leon Powe and Ish Smith in the "open only in case of severe foul trouble" box at the end of the bench.

The minutes distribution on the wing in Game 6:

Mayo: 39
Battier: 29
Allen: 21
Young: 12

This is good, but there's no reason the 12 minutes Young played can't be split between Allen and Battier today.

Disrupting Westbrook and Durant: The Grizzlies defense has done a good job disrupting Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. With Westbrook this has meant putting bigger defenders on him (Mayo and Allen) and trying to step up and take charges. With Durant it's meant having Allen and Battier get physical with him and shade a second defender over when possible.

As great as Durant his, you've gotten the sense in this series that he doesn't much like dealing with the physicality of playoff defense as practiced by Allen and Battier. Can this continue? Playing at home in a Game 7, my concern from a Grizzlies perspective would be aggressive defense on Durant and Westbrook resulting in even more fouls and free-throws than has been the norm in this series.

Thunder Adjustments: The Grizzlies made the big adjustments in Game 6. Thunder's turn now. Possibilities: Even more minutes for James Harden and Nick Collison, at the expense of Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins. More small-ball, with Durant at the four. And more aggressive doubling of Zach Randolph than we saw in Game 6, even with the Grizzlies making a point of keeping better shooters on the floor.

Wild Cards: It's all down to one game and something unexpected could result in a big swing: Early foul trouble, a role player going off (Eric Maynor? Darrell Arthur?). Somebody's making a reputation today. Someone else could see his damaged. As some NFL player whose name I can't remember says on sports-talk radio soundbites around the country: CAN'T WAIT.

And, finally, to get you fired up:


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