A year after reaching the NBA Finals for the first time, the Oklahoma City Thunder are on the brink of elimination in the second round. Trailing 3-1 to the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Semifinals, the Thunder need to ignite a serious rally Wednesday night at home in Game 5 of the seven-game series.
Considered favorites to win the West for a second straight year entering the postseason, the Thunder have stumbled badly following the season-ending injury to star guard Russell Westbrook. Kevin Durant trying to play hero has worked to a degree, but it's clear the Thunder lose something with Reggie Jackson as the primary point guard.
Playing at home in Game 5, the Thunder should come out with a passionate brand of basketball, but the Grizzlies aren't exactly the kind of team to kowtow to intensity. With a wild one expected for Wednesday night, here are three questions that could define the game.
1. Can the Grizz keep avoiding turnovers?
Entering the postseason, everyone wondered how Memphis would score enough to regularly compete against the league's best teams. With guys like Mike Conley and Marc Gasol stepping up their games, we have our answer to some degree, but one aspect of the Grizzlies offense stands out above all else: They don't turn the ball over. As Grantland's Zach Lowe tweeted Tuesday, "Thing I probably didn't play up enough today: MEM's playoff turnover rate is ridiculously low. Like basically historically aberrant." In the series, the Grizzlies have a 56-39 advantage in turnovers forced.
2. Is this Mike Conley's breakout?
Over the past few games, the Memphis point guard has taken his game to another level. Always a solid perimeter defender and orchestrator of the offense, Conley has emerged as arguably the team's most potent scorer in the post-Rudy Gay era. Armed with razor-quick speed, elite handles and a solid jumper, Conley has turned the Grizzlies' pick-and-roll sets into a clinic on how to use screens. Faced up against an inexperienced Reggie Jackson and an aging Derek Fisher, he's lit up the Thunder for 21.3 points and 6.7 assists per game during the past three contests, all Memphis wins. If Conley can keep up this play on that end of the floor, Memphis will be tough to beat.
3. Will Kevin Martin show up?
Without Westbrook, someone needed to step up and provide scoring punch behind Durant's heroic efforts. As the team's third-leading scorer during the regular season, shooting guard Kevin Martin appeared to be the most obvious potential Robin to KD's Batman. Instead, Martin has struggled throughout the series against Memphis, rarely looking like someone who was among the most efficient scorers in the league during the regular season. Since starting strong with a 25-point, seven-rebound effort in Game 1, Martin has averaged 12.3 points on 35 percent shooting in the past three games.
Time: 9:30 p.m. ET
Odds: The Thunder are 4.5-point favorites.