Thunder fans can start to panic about the prospect of facing Denver in the playoffs after losing the season series to the Nuggets 3-1. But before you get too worked up over that potential series, there is another possible playoff matchup tonight against the Grizzlies.
Tonight's game in Memphis will be the third and final regular season matchup and is the rubber match after splitting the first two games. It is also the first time since the Memphis trade that OKC will get to see the complete new roster of the Grizzlies.
Missing from Deep
If you are looking for the reason why the Nuggets punished the Thunder, look no further than three point shooting. Teams do not often win when missing 21 threes, which is exactly what Oklahoma City did in going 4-25. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combine to go 0-10, while Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher chipped in an 0-7 performance off the bench.
This was a truly dismal effort for the third-best free throw shooting team in the league and raises an interesting question. Why shoot so many threes? Part of the reason the Thunder make 38.2 percent from deep is that they are very picky in their shot selection, ranking only 16th in three point attempts. The "chuck it up and hope for the best" approach is not a strategy typically employed by Scott Brooks' team.
Perhaps some of the misses can be attributed to late desperation shots. However, the Thunder were 4-22 from three when the Nuggets forced desperation mode by going up eight with two minutes to play. The damage had already been done.
Maybe the reason for so many missed threes was the absence of Serge Ibaka, who played only 23 minutes before an eye cut forced him out. Although Durant and Westbrook can score from anywhere, Ibaka is the only big man on the team who can score in the post consistently. Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison combined score fewer than Ibaka's 13.4 points per game. As he is also one of the most efficient scorers on the team with an effective field goal percentage of .586, losing even seven minutes of Ibaka's play is a big deal.
Of course his limited minutes still cannot explain the atrocious defensive rebounding, as Oklahoma City routinely struggles to limit second chance points against good teams, particularly Denver.
The Grizzlies can look to dominate the glass in the same manner tonight, and if they can force a bad shot selection like Denver did, they could very well earn a win over the Thunder. Unless OKC wants to drop two of three season series against likely second round opponents, they better find a way to make sure that does not happen.