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Thunder try to stay alive in Thursday's Game 6 in Memphis
By: Mark Kern - StatFox
Published: 5/1/2014  at  5:15:00 AM
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OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (61-26)

at MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (53-34)

NBA Playoffs - Western Conference First Round
Game 6 - Memphis leads series 3-2
Tip-off: Thursday, 8:05 p.m. ET
Line: Oklahoma City -2.5, Total: 185

The Grizzlies have a chance to knock the Thunder out of the playoffs for the second consecutive season with a home win in Game 6 on Thursday.

This series has been one for the ages, as Tuesday's Game 5 marked the fourth consecutive overtime game in this series. Memphis moved to 3-1 in those extra-session contests with the 100-99 victory in which Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka's tip-in came a split second after the final buzzer. It should never have been that close though, as Memphis blew a 20-point lead in Game 5 before getting the job done in overtime. With the ability of the Thunder to get out in the open and score, it is imperative for the Grizzlies to take care of the ball, and they did just that on Tuesday with nine turnovers and holding Oklahoma City to seven fast-break points. Memphis is now 7-3 SU (8-1-1 ATS) in the playoffs against the Thunder over past two seasons, but Oklahoma City does have some positive betting trends in its favor as it tries to send the series back to a Game 7 at home. The Thunder are only 26-17 SU (20-22-1 ATS) on the road, but they have been resilient after a close loss, going 14-3 ATS over the past three seasons after falling by three points or less. They are also the better team with one day's rest this season at 28-23-1 ATS (55%) compared to 17-27-3 ATS (39%) for the Grizzlies. With Memphis being a veteran team, tired legs could play a big role on Thursday against its much younger and more athletic opponent. On Dec. 11, these two teams played at FedEx Forum with the Thunder rolling to a 16-point win. Although the Grizzlies had a day off while Oklahoma City was playing the second half of a back-to-back, the Thunder still ran their opponent out of the gym. With this series getting longer, the short rest could give Oklahoma City the advantage it needs to get back into this series. Although Memphis is a mere 18-23-2 ATS (28-15 SU) at home this season, it is also 13-3 ATS at home after 3+ straight ATS wins in the past three seasons.

Against a team like the Grizzlies, you cannot afford to get down early against them, as they are a great defensive team that also works the shot clock so well, making it difficult to come back. However, their offensive limitations make it tough for them to come back as well, so the first five minutes of this game could be crucial. Oklahoma City is shooting a dismal 39.7% FG and 28.6% threes during this series, which is a far cry from its 47.1% FG and 36.1% threes during the regular season. PG Russell Westbrook (25.4 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 7.0 APG, 1.2 SPG this series) has some impressive numbers, including a triple-double of 30 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds in Game 5. But he is shooting a dismal 34% FG and 18% threes this series while also turning the ball over 4.6 times per game. SF Kevin Durant (28.0 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.8 BPG this series) is also struggling to knock down shots, making only 40% FG and 29% threes, which is significantly worse that his percentages in the regular season of 50% FG and 39% threes. Both players need to attack the rim rather than settling for the perimeter shot. In Game 5, the duo attempted the same amount of threes (15) as foul shots (15), with Durant going 3-for-6 from the charity stripe. One of those misses was with 25 seconds left in overtime with a chance to tie the game. Tony Allen has done a terrific job defending Durant, but the Thunder will have to find ways of freeing him up for more open looks. One option could be to allow Durant to bring the ball up more, rather than having to try and force him the ball in the half-court set. His job will become easier if the role players can perform well, such as SF Caron Butler (6.6 PPG, 3.0 RPG this series) did in Game 5 with 15 points and five rebounds. After playing the hero role in Game 4 with 32 points and nine rebounds, PG Reggie Jackson (10.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG this series) came back down to earth on Tuesday with only six points (2-of-7 FG), five rebounds and five turnovers. He will need to have a big game to help the Thunder force a Game 7. PF Serge Ibaka (14.2 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 2.8 BPG this series) had an outstanding game on Tuesday with 15 points and 12 boards, but was hampered by foul trouble. If Ibaka and C Kendrick Perkins (3.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG this series), who pulled down eight rebounds in Game 5, can continue to play strong defense against the Grizzlies' post players, then the Thunder will have a chance to win.

As he did during his days with the Heat, SF Mike Miller (8.2 PPG, 4.2 RPG this series) really hurt the Thunder in Game 5 with 21 points (5-of-8 threes), six boards, three assists and three steals off the bench. In overtime, he drained three-pointers on the first two possessions to help the Grizzlies get rolling in the extra period. PF Zach Randolph (18.6 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 2.6 APG) was back to being his productive self with a double-double of 20 points (8-of-15 FG) and 10 rebounds on Tuesday night. He has posted good numbers all series, but has shot poorly at 39% FG, which is well below the 47% FG he shot this season. C Marc Gasol (16.0 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.4 SPG this series) posted his second straight double-double in Game 5 with 11 points and 15 boards, while adding four assists and two blocks. Like his frontcourt mate Randolph, Gasol has also shot poorly this series at 41% FG. PG Mike Conley (17.2 PPG, 8.0 APG, 4.6 RPG, 1.8 SPG this series) continues to play terrific basketball for Memphis with 17 points, four assists and two rebounds in Game 5. His only turnover of the game was when Westbrook stole the ball at the end of regulation to set up overtime. For the series, Conley has 40 assists and just nine turnovers (4.4 Ast/TO ratio). The Grizzlies passing was terrific in Game 5 with 21 assists and only nine turnovers, as the Thunder were able to only get two steals. The biggest reason why Memphis is up in this series is because it has been able to control the tempo for the most part. SG Tony Allen (11.6 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 2.2 SPG this series) once again played excellent defense on Durant despite ceding five inches to the NBA scoring champion, and also pitched in with seven points, nine boards and three steals in his 34 minutes off the bench. Another huge key to this series is how the Grizzlies shoot from the foul line. In their two losses, they have connected on only 57% FT (31-54), compared to 80% FT (52-65) in the three wins. This team struggles to score, so it must capitalize from the charity stripe.

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