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Thunder look to tie up series Saturday at Grizzlies
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Published: 4/26/2014  at  5:23:00 AM
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NBA Playoffs - Western Conference First Round
Game 4 - Memphis leads series 2-1
Tip-off: Saturday, 9:35 p.m. ET
Line: Oklahoma City -2.5, Total: 188

The Thunder are in a must-win situation as they look to avoid a 3-1 series hole against the Grizzlies on Saturday night.

Oklahoma City was down 17 points midway through the fourth quarter in Game 3, but battled back to tie it on a Russell Westbrook three-pointer. A four-point play by Westbrook sent the game to overtime, but the Grizzlies were able to get their second consecutive overtime victory in the series, prevailing 98-95. The Thunder need bigger performances from their supporting players, as they got only 35 points from everybody else besides Westbrook and Kevin Durant. This is adding pressure to the duo as they combined to go just 17-of-53 from the field and 4-of-21 from the three-point line). One positive note the Thunder (44-40-1 ATS overall, 20-22 ATS on road) can take out of the game was the way they defended at the end of regulation, which allowed them to get back into the game. However, for the team to win, they will have to defend the frontcourt of the Grizzlies much better early in the game. Memphis (38-44-3 ATS overall, 18-23-1 ATS at home) was able to outscore Oklahoma City 62-48, in the paint, despite a tough night from Zach Randolph (16 points, 5-of-20 FG). Randolph got off to a nice start in the first half, but had a stretch in the second half where he missed eight consecutive shots. Despite not shooting free throws well in the regular season, the Grizzlies once again connected on a good percentage from the free-throw line in Game 3 (12-of-15). However, the biggest reason why Memphis was able to get the win was a huge performance from its reserves, outscoring the Thunderís bench, 34-9. If that happens again, it will be very difficult for Oklahoma City to avoid a 3-1 hole. Memphis holds a 13-6 ATS advantage (10-9 SU) in this series over the past three seasons, including 5-3 (SU and ATS) at FedEx Forum. Although the Grizzlies are just 6-23 ATS (21%) after three straight games of committing 14 or less turnovers this season, they are also 39-24 ATS (62%) versus good shooting teams (46%+ FG) over the past two seasons.

Despite a very tough offensive night for the Thunder on Thursday, the team had a chance to win the game in the final minutes. SF Kevin Durant (33.0 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 4.7 APG in series) finished with 30 points, nine rebounds and five blocks in Game 3, but really struggled from the field, missing on all eight of his three-point attempts. He was getting good looks, but at one point in the second half, he got an offensive rebound and missed a two-foot shot, which showed what kind of night it was for Durant. While he struggled offensively, he played a terrific defensive game. There were many times when Durant and PG Russell Westbrook (27.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 5.0 APG in series) werenít on the same page when trying to get each other the ball. Look for the Thunder to run a lot more pick-and-roll with their two stars, rather than posting Durant against Tony Allen. Westbrook at times was dominant in Game 3, evidenced by his 30 points, 13 rebounds, but took some bad shots when the Thunder were making their comeback. PF Serge Ibaka (14.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 3.0 BPG) was the only other player to reach double figures for Oklahoma City with 12 points and five rebounds. Guys like PG Derek Fisher (4.7 PPG on 36% FG in series), SF Caron Butler (4.0 PPG on 25% FG in series) and PG Reggie Jackson (5.0 PPG on 16% FG in series) all have the ability of having big scoring nights, but have all shot horribly during this series. Saturday night is going to come down to a basic part of the game for The Thunder, who simply have to hit more shots. Just like the Grizzlies in Game 1 when they shot 36% FG, Oklahoma City was in position to win despite shooting terribly (39% FG). Correct that on the offensive end and the Thunder will be in great shape to tie the series up. If not, Memphis will be one game away from clinching the series.

The inside game of PF Zach Randolph (20.7 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 3.7 APG in series) and C Marc Gasol (15.3 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 4.3 APG in series) get all of the talk, but PG Mike Conley (18.3 PPG, 8.7 APG, 5.7 RPG in series) has been the star of this team in the playoffs. In Game 3, Conley scored 20 points while dishing out three assists, and his three-pointer in overtime gave the Grizzlies a 90-88 lead, helping them pull away for the victory with another layup. He is not as athletic as Westbrook, but he plays under control and does not force things. Gasol had another solid game on Thursday with 14 points and eight rebounds, but did not touch the ball a lot in the final seven minutes of regulation when the Thunder made their comeback. The Grizzlies are at their best when the offense is running through Gasol, so look for Memphis to get back to that on Saturday. The bench play of SF Tony Allen (12.3 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 2.3 SPG in series) and PG Beno Udrih (9.7 PG, 3.0 RPG in series) was the key in the Game 3 victory, as the duo combined for 30 points, while Allen also pulled down nine boards. Udrih hit difficult shots the entire game, while Allen was a force on both ends of the court. Getting offense from Allen is a bonus, as he has done a terrific job of guarding Durant through the first three games of this series. If the bench can continue to outplay the Thunder reserves, Memphis will be in great shape to get the victory.

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