By The Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The arrival of Kendrick Perkins was expected to give the Oklahoma City Thunder the kind of inside muscle they needed to stand their ground with some of the NBA’s beefiest big men.
In the opener of their Western Conference semifinal series with Memphis, it was the Grizzlies who did the bruising.
Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol combined for 54 points and 23 rebounds in leading eighth-seeded Memphis to a road victory in Game 1 for the second straight series. The Grizzlies got 52 points in the paint, more than any team but the Los Angeles Lakers have scored against Oklahoma City with Perkins in the lineup.
“They played physical, they bullied us in the first game,” guard James Harden said after practice Monday. “So, the second game, we just have to prepare and go out there and not make excuses and win a game.”
Game 2 is Tuesday night in Oklahoma City.
The Grizzlies, who led the NBA with 51.5 points per game in the paint, averaged a whopping 59 against Oklahoma City while winning the regular-season series 3-1. The Thunder’s only win came when Memphis scored 60 points inside but went 10-for-38 outside the paint, including 1 for 15 on 3-pointers.
“We just have to pack the paint,” Harden said. “Pack the paint, clog it up, make them shoot outside jump shots. They lead the league in paint points, so we have to cover that up.”
Randolph has set the Grizzlies’ playoff scoring record in back-to-back games, with 31 points in Game 6 against top-seeded San Antonio and then 34 — along with 10 rebounds — in Game 1 at Oklahoma City.
He’s had three games with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds against the Thunder.
“I think Zach showed you how much he can do if they don’t double-team him,” teammate Darrell Arthur said. “And if they do double-team, he’s such a great passer out of the post that it doesn’t really matter.”
Randolph has become one of the stars of the playoffs, a player with no history of postseason success during his 10-year career leading a franchise that had never won a playoff series until knocking off top-seeded San Antonio a few days ago.
He was better known for some run-ins with the law. But after bouncing from Portland to New York to the Los Angeles Clippers, he has found a fit in Memphis.
“I think Zach is the epitome of life,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said. “When we’re young people, we make mistakes. We do things that we shouldn’t do, and we grow and become better men. Whether it’s in this game or in life, that’s what this world is all about.”
Randolph has looked unstoppable, even against a front line that added Perkins — one of the NBA’s top low-post defenders — at the trade deadline in February. The move allowed Serge Ibaka, the league’s top shot blocker, to move from center to his natural power forward position.
Coach Scott Brooks thought the Thunder did a decent job of getting Randolph and Gasol out of the areas where they’re strongest, but it still wasn’t good enough.
“Zach made eight shots from the perimeter. There’s nothing you can do about that, other than pushing him outside a few extra feet and crowding his space. Gasol made four jump shots, and that’s not his strength of his game,” Brooks said. “But they made them and give them credit. They stepped up and they made those shots.”
Gasol went 4 for 4 on jumpers from at least 14 feet and Randolph hit eight jumpers from at least 10 feet out, including a 3-pointer.
“We can shoot the ball, pick and roll. It ain’t just coming down and throwin’ it in the post,” Randolph said. “We can do different stuff a lot of the other big guys can’t do.”
Perkins said “that wasn’t Thunder basketball (Sunday), and it’s going to be a different game tomorrow.”
“It wasn’t nothing like they had a lot of shots in the paint. He hit a lot of outside shots (Sunday) — contested, tough shots at that — so you’re not overreacting to nothing,” Perkins said. “I feel like we just didn’t play our game.
“I don’t get too much concerned about what the other team’s doing. I’m always concerned about what we do.”
The Grizzlies — who led the NBA in steals and turnovers forced — also scored 23 points off of 18 Oklahoma City turnovers and 22 second-chance points off of 17 offensive rebounds.
“That has to change,” Brooks said. “We have to get better in those areas because that’s their strength, and they had their way with their strength. We don’t want that to happen.”
Brooks said he was hesitant to double-team Randolph too much because he’s become a quality passer when the Grizzlies send players cutting to the basket.
“There’s only so many things you can do on a basketball court,” Randolph said. “They could double-team me and push me baseline. There’s only two things. I’ve seen almost anything, so I’ll be ready for whatever they throw at me.”
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.