Thunder vs. Grizzlies: Season series, past playoff history sets up physical matchup

Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE

The Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies have a history of physical, nose-to-nose battles heading back to the 2011 playoffs.

Two years ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder found themselves in a situation similar to today's. A Western Conference semifinals matchup drew the Memphis Grizzlies, and the result was a seven-game series with five games ending in double-digit deficits but two going into overtime.

Chalk the back-and-forth up to adjustments and erratic swings in momentum.

This time around, the Grizzlies and Thunder meet again in the 2013 conference semifinals but with very different looks. Each have been learning how to deal with the loss of perimeter scorers.

The Grizzlies have moved on since trading small forward Rudy Gay, but Oklahoma City is just now learning how to function without Russell Westbrook. Replacing the electric point guard and filling in the roles so quickly is obviously Oklahoma City's biggest issue. After all, Westbrook was the one that perhaps put the Thunder over the top in 2011.

The Grizzlies took Game 1 on the road by a score of 114-101 behind Zach Randolph's 34 points, but the Thunder evened the series heading to Memphis. Two overtimes in Games 3 and 4 tied the series at two games apiece, but the Thunder pulled out a second consecutive victory with a 99-72 win when it returned home for Game 5. The Grizzlies won Game 6 to stay alive.

So it all came down to Game 7, and that's where Westbrook made the difference. Kevin Durant's 39 points perhaps overshadowed the point guard's 14-point, 14-assist, 10-rebound triple-double before the young Thunder won 105-90. They advanced only to fall in the Western Conference Finals to the eventual champions, the Dallas Mavericks.

For two teams that pride themselves on physicality, defense and thick skin, two years hasn't done enough to rub away the memories. Memphis took the 2012-13 season series 2-1, though that record holds little weight these days.

A November meeting between the two squads saw Gay go for 28 points in a 107-97 Grizzlies win. Toss Gay's outburst aside, but don't discount the in-game storyline between Kendrick Perkins and Randolph, who were tossed from the game and ended up taking their words for one another to the locker room -- Randolph was fined $25,000 by the league for the incident.

This season's second meeting also holds little value considering the Grizzlies had just traded Gay to the Toronto Raptors and his replacement, Tayshaun Prince, had yet to join the team. Jerryd Bayless got the start alongside Mike Conley and led the Grizzlies with 23 points and six assists in the 106-89 loss.

The final game of the series, a 90-89 overtime win for Memphis, ended with a tip-in from Marc Gasol on a Randolph miss. And that could be a more accurate depiction of how this playoff series might go.

With Randolph coming off a ejection-laced, series-clinching victory against the Los Angeles Clippers, expect the fireworks to fly some more in the second round.

Even discounting that and any of the past clashes between the Thunder and Grizzlies, to expect anything less would be a disappointment.

Game 1

Time: 1 p.m. ET

TV: ABC

Odds: The Thunder opened as four-point favorites.

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