Certainly the complexion of the first NBA Western Conference semifinal that tips off Sunday afternoon is far different than anyone expected. Sure, the defending Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder is one of the combatants, but the Thunder carries a far different look with point guard Russell Westbrook sidelined for the rest of the postseason with a knee injury. And most everyone expected the semis on this side of the bracket to feature a point guard showdown between Westbrook and Los Angeles Clippers firebrand Chris Paul. But the Memphis Grizzlies had other ideas about that. So Sunday's opener, at times, could give you a battle between aging Derek Fisher and former New Orleans Hornets point guard Jerryd Bayless, backups for the Thunder and Grizzlies respectively. Both those players were critical to their team's close-out victories Friday night as the Grizzlies stunned the more glamorous Clippers, and sent Paul and his more well-known teammates packing by securing 4-2 series victory, winning the last four games after losing the first two, including Friday night's 118-105 win. For Paul, it also means an offseason of pondering his future, since he becomes an unrestricted free agent. "Now this series is over," said Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, the league's Defensive Player of the Year this season. "Now it's time to enjoy tonight and get ready for tomorrow. It's a quick turnaround. We play Sunday, so we are going to enjoy tonight." In the regular season, Memphis took the season series 2-1 over the Thunder, splitting two games in Oklahoma City, site of Sunday's opener. In retrospect, the Grizzlies' win over the Clippers really shouldn't be that surprising. Los Angeles made its mark with regular-season intimidation, transition lob-plays often meant to embarrass, as well as demoralize, opponents finished with preening dunks. But the Grizzlies' front court including Gasol and power forward Zach Randolph don't intimidate easily and playoff basketball often turns into a half-court slowdown game, something the Clippers cannot fully embrace. Paul's frustration – he firmly believed this Clippers team could contend for a title – peaked with 2:29 left in Friday night's game when he was ejected with his second technical foul for crashing into Gasol on a layup attempt. Friday night's game in Memphis was physical, featuring seven technical fouls and several skirmishes including a wrestling match between Randolph and Clippers' power forward Blake Griffin.
Oklahoma City Thunder to face unexpected semifinal opponent in Memphis Grizzlies
New Orleans Times-Picayune | May 4