Oklahoma City heads to Memphis to take on the Grizzlies in Game Three of their first round series on Thursday night, but you'd think the Thunder was down 2-0 instead of tied with the Grizz at 1-1.
Monday's dramatic Game Two loss to Memphis exposed a lot of problems for the Thunder, but the panic the loss caused is excessive in light of what actually happened. What happened was the Thunder lost one game in a series most thought would go at least six games. Sure, OKC lost its homecourt advantage in the process, but to regain it, the Thunder has to win just one of the next two games in Memphis.
That won't be an easy task, seeing as the Grizzlies have won 14 in a row at the Grindhouse. However, with just a few simple tweaks—and some perspective—it suddenly doesn't seem to be quite so impossible.
The Thunder played just north of zero defense on Monday night, allowing the Grizzlies to shoot 50 percent and the Memphis bench to score 33 points. Pretty much anything on the defensive end will be better than the effort the Thunder trotted out there at The Peake in Game Two.
Offensively, Russell Westbrook needs to play smarter. He doesn't necessarily have to be more efficient, but he has to be smarter. He can't go 1-of-7 from 3-point range. He can't make poor passes or take wild shots in traffic at the rim. He has to be more controlled and play smart basketball. Rarely do we see Westbrook wild and crazy two games in a row. After two days off, here's betting he will be a bit more settled on Thursday.
The OKC bench was basically nonexistent on Monday, combining for just 14 points on 4-of-16 shooting. The bench is one of the advantages the Thunder has over Memphis, particularly on offense. There's just no reason Reggie Jackson and Caron Butler should be completely out-classed by Beno Udrih and Mike Miller.
OKC doesn't consider production from Jackson and Butler a luxury; it's a necessity. When two of your starters are as offensively challenged as Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha, you have to have production from other players. Jackson and Butler are those players for OKC.
Lastly, much has been made of Tony Allen's defense on Kevin Durant through the first two games of the series. Without a doubt, Allen has done a phenomenal job making life very difficult for Durant and the Thunder offense. However, it's a testament to Durant's greatness that everyone considers a 12-of-28 shooting performance, 36 points, 11 rebounds and just a single turnover as being "locked down."
OKC doesn't need more from Durant. If it does, the Thunder is in big trouble. Durant needs to be steady and the rest of the team needs to rise up in support of him.
The level of paranoia in OKC has reached extreme heights, thanks in large part to injuries—mainly Westbrooks'—and flat regular season performances looking flatter than past seasons. But Memphis is a great team and great teams like the Thunder aren't just supposed to roll over other great teams. This series was always going to be a long one, complete with losses for OKC. However, the Thunder isn't in a bad spot, needing to make only small adjustments to turn the series back in its favor.