A Saturday afternoon in Tennessee is when the Memphis Grizzlies will make their stand. Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder have shown that they desperately miss Russell Westbrook and are likely the inferior team. The Western Conference semifinals are knotted at 1-1 and the FedEx Forum should be loud and bloodthirsty for this one. Tipoff is at 5 p.m. ET and can be seen on ESPN.
What do you need to know about Game 3? Here are three questions these teams will have to answer.
What will Kevin Martin do?
In the Thunder's Game 1 victory, Martin made a huge impact offensively, scoring 25 points off the bench and giving the Grizzlies fits. He hit three three-pointers, was 6-7 from the free-throw line, and the slender shooting guard even hauled in seven rebounds. He was a different player in Game 2, with the Grizzlies getting more physical. He scored six points on 2-11 shooting, never got in a rhythm and was a total non-factor.
There was a time when Kevin Martin was one of the most dangerous scorers in the league. He averaged 23.5 points or more in three of four seasons from 2007 to 2011. He was a favorite of basketball stat nerds for his ability to fill it up with insane efficiency. When he was traded to Houston and became the focal point of the Rockets' offense, his efficiency suffered because he's so darn skinny that any time a team put a physical defender on him, he disappeared.
Tony Allen should see plenty of time on Kevin Martin, as should Quincy Pondexter. These are both formidable perimeter defenders that play a physical style. If the Thunder can scheme — a tall order for Scott Brooks, but we'll get to that — a way to free Martin, he could have an impact. If they rely on him to free himself off the ball without help, he won't be much help to Durant.
Can Scott Brooks adjust his offense?
Kevin Durant is a singular offensive force, but even on his best nights, he's good for only 40 or so points. NBA teams tend to need more than that to win a game. Martin is the other reliably creative offensive player, but he needs help from Durant and/or a point guard for offense as we outlined above.
The fact is, the Grizzlies' defense is really good. Marc Gasol is the Defensive Player of the Year, Mike Conley can take Reggie Jackson out of the game, and there's Tayshaun Prince, Tony Allen and Quincy Pondexter to wreak havoc on the perimeter. They're better than the Thunder's offense as constructed.
What can head coach Scott Brooks do about this? Construct the offense in a different way, like capable head coaches are wont to do in a long playoff series. Thus far in Brooks' career, he has either been unwilling or unable to change anything, but he hasn't really had to. Durant and Russell Westbrook have been so good and so healthy for so long that Brooks has just been able to install basic sets and let the Thunder's stars take it from there.
What kind of adjustments could Brooks make? Fewer minutes for Kendrick Perkins would be a start. He's pretty useless offensively, and his lack of utility frees up Marc Gasol to focus some of his attention elsewhere. Installing a lineup of Jackson-Martin-Sefolosha-Durant-Ibaka could open up space to let Martin and Sefolosha stake out space on the perimeter, Durant to take Randolph out of the paint and Ibaka to use his quickness to try to get around Gasol for tip-ins. Just a thought.
Can Mike Conley take advantage of Reggie Jackson?
Reggie Jackson has shown himself to be at least an above-average offensive player. He's not the destructive force Russell Westbrook is, but he's still good enough to warrant minutes. Defensively, he's undersized and inexperienced. He hasn't showed the lateral quickness and awareness to be able to lock down opposing point guards. Patrick Beverly was able to exploit him in the first round. Patrick Beverly!
Conley was woeful in Game 1, shooting 5-15 for just 13 points. Game 2 was a different story, and he exploded for 26 points, ten rebounds and nine assists in the Grizzlies' win. He has drastically improved his three-point shooting since he came in the league, and although he's not the most dangerous point guard off the dribble, he can finish fluidly with either hand. His offense is the catalyst for any Grizzlies advantage on that end. If he can exploit his matchup consistently, this could be a five-game series.
Game time: 5 p.m. ET
Odds: The Grizzlies are 3.5-point home favorites, according to Odds Shark.