The grit and grind Memphis Grizzlies are doing it again.
In the 2012, the Grizzlies took the Oklahoma City Thunder to seven games before the Thunder managed to trump Memphis en route to their NBA finals appearance.
In 2013, with OKC’s star point guard Russell Westbrook out due to injury, the Grizzlies threw everything they had at Kevin Durant and knocked out the Thunder in an incredibly close five games.
And now, in 2014, the Grizzlies are pushing the No. 2 seed Thunder to their limits once again.
At time of printing the series is tied at 2-2, and the Grizzlies are making the Thunder look as frustrated as they have all season because of two main factors: post play and defense.
In today’s NBA, it’s all about scoring.
Many tend to shy away from defensive contests and teams that can’t shoot.
But the Grizzlies are an anomaly in that regard, and they are using that to their full advantage.
They have the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year in Marc Gasol, and reigning first-team All-NBA guard Tony Allen.
Ohio State University project Mike Conley is one of the bigger point guards in the league, and while not necessarily a speedy point guard, his size helps immensely on the defensive end.
This season, Memphis was the third best defense in the NBA in terms of opponents’ points per game (according to ESPN.com), only behind Indiana and Chicago.
The Grizzlies accomplished all of this with their centerpiece, Gasol, missing 23 games due to injury.
The Gasol injury hurt the Grizzlies badly–so much so that they almost fell out of the playoffs. But once he returned, they got it together at the end of the season and squeaked in as the No. 7 seed.
Now, a Grizzlies team that won 56 games the year prior with a nearly an identical team, is once again squaring up with the West’s elite.
Throughout the series, Allen has pestered Durant in every which way: fighting through every screen, contesting every shot and simply making Durant uncomfortable by never leaving his side.
Due to this, Durant, who led the league in scoring with 32 ppg, has been held to 28 ppg, while shooting over 10 percent worse everywhere on the floor.
While a player like Durant is always going to get points, forcing him to use more shots to get those numbers is a very effective defensive strategy.
The Grizzlies have been a handful all series, and at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to if Durant and Westbrook can find a way to score against the grit and grind defense of Marc Gasol, Tony Allen and the rest of the Grizzlies.