Once Russell Westbrook was lost due to injury, many people still claimed that the Thunder could make it to the NBA Finals without him. I immediately disagreed with that claim.
For starters, the Thunder had a ferocious battle tested Grizzlies team to get by first. I already knew from the jump, that the Grizzlies would give the Thunder serious problems in the interior. The lethal combination of Zach and Marc scoring in the paint area and fighting for rebounds would obviously wear this undermanned Thunder team down over a 7 game series.
Their defensive schemes were just as good. The Grizzlies do a good job of forcing opposing teams top offensive players into spots on the court where there is help defense (greatly reducing the % of attempted shots and good for disrupting an efficient offense).
Next people seem to forget how good Mike Conley is. He is a top 10 point guard in my opinion. He is a good floor general, can stretch the floor with his shooting touch, and isn’t afraid to take big shots down the stretch of tight games. He is so agile and fast, he gives defenders fits trying to stay in front of him and guard him.
People also forgot that Memphis had a Tony Allen and a Tayshaun Prince. These two players are superb one on one defenders, and great team defenders as well. Tony is a quicker more physical defender who can get up in you, and pressure you into tough spots on the court. Prince is a tall/longer/finesse defender who uses his body to maneuver himself into advantageous positions on the court over offensive players (to the point where he can literally dictate the shot that the offensive player takes), and still contests it with his outstretched arms, resulting in a lower % shot. That’s exactly what Memphis wants you to do.
Marc is also the leader of this tantalizing defense. He doesn’t necessarily block a lot of shots or make the most exciting defensive plays, but its his paint presence alone that allows this Memphis team to function so well defensively. His help defense and rotations on defense are crisp as can be. He alters a lot of shots attempted in the paint area, causing them to miss severely. This Memphis team really believes in one another, and the trust factor is the reason they operate so well as a unit. Players know where teammates want the ball on offense, and also know where the help side defense is going to be at.
Memphis doesn’t necessarily have a designated star player on their team that they rely on to get them buckets at the end of close games. However, they don’t need one because they are such a good team. At the end of the day I understand Kevin Durant is a star in this league, and he can drop 40 on any given night. But at the end of the day, one man can not expect to take on a whole team and be victorious. Memphis ended up winning this series 4-1 I’m not too surprised.