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May 12, 2011
Playoff Prospectus
Bench Blowout

by Kevin Pelton

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Oklahoma City 99, Memphis 72 (Oklahoma City leads 3-2)
Pace: 89.0
Offensive Ratings: Oklahoma City 114.3, Memphis 86.6

There's only so much that can be taken strategically from a 27-point game. Lionel Hollins tried some things--most notably, switching Tony Allen onto Russell Westbrook defensively and using Sam Young against Kevin Durant--but evaluating their effectiveness proved almost impossible because the Memphis Grizzlies simply didn't have it Wednesday night. While that fact is difficult to accept this time of year, it seemed almost inevitable as a result of the three-overtime battle the Grizzlies waged with the Oklahoma City Thunder two nights earlier in Memphis. Indeed, for most of the first quarter, the Thunder was just as sluggish and sloppy as the Grizzlies. That changed, dramatically, when the Oklahoma City bench entered the game.

Instead of delving too deeply into the Xs and Os, then, let's take this opportunity to laud the Thunder's second unit. Most coaches shorten their rotation during the playoffs, but Scott Brooks has continued to use 10 players. Even more unorthodox is that Brooks will use five reserves at a time, putting both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on the bench and trusting in James Harden as a go-to scorer in a balanced unit that showcases Oklahoma City's enviable depth.

With four reserves and Durant in the game, the Thunder rallied to tie the score after one quarter on a Harden three-pointer. In the second half, all five reserves helped Oklahoma City extend a lead that was 19 after three quarters and ensure that the Thunder's starters could enjoy the final quarter from the bench.

Harden figured prominently as Oklahoma City opened up a lead late in the first half. With Harden at shooting guard alongside the Thunder's other starters, the team went on a 15-2 run to put Memphis in the rear-view mirror. Harden had two assists in the run and five in the game as part of a balanced effort that also included nine points and six rebounds. With him on the floor, Oklahoma City held a 29-point advantage.

In the frontcourt, Nick Collison reinforced why he was the subject of a feature by ESPN Insider's John Hollinger on Wednesday, although he might have erased his label as a "no-stats All-Star" by coming within a point of a double-double in 25 minutes. Collison also drew one of his trademark charges and continued to stymie Zach Randolph in the post. Randolph battled foul trouble and never got going, scoring nine points on 12 shooting possessions.

The Thunder's bench brigade went well beyond Collison and Harden, the two reserves who often finish games. Streaky Daequan Cook knocked down four three-pointers, three in the final period alone, and was the game's second-leading scorer with 18 points. Nazr Mohammed also reached double figures with 10 points, adding six rebounds. And while Eric Maynor did not make a field goal, he orchestrated the second-team attack with nine assists.

For the Grizzlies, this was a complete write-off, and my biggest concern would be that Hollins took so long to get his starters out of the game. Everyone save Young, who plays fewer minutes than O.J. Mayo as it is, was in the game through the six-minute mark, when Oklahoma City trailed by 24 points. Marc Gasol inexplicably played nearly two minutes longer. For a team that looked as fatigued as Memphis did, every minute matters in preparing of Friday's must-win Game Six.

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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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Playoff Prospectus (05/13)

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