Oklahoma City Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka (9) and small forward Kevin Durant (35) react to the closing moments during a timeout near the end Game 3 against the Memphis Grizzlies in Memphis, Tenn., Saturday, May 11. The Grizzlies defeated the Thunder 87-81. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
MANILA, Philippines – What was once a season destined to culminate in a finals rematch with the Miami Heat has gone downhill for Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
And judging from what has transpired in their Western Conference semifinals series against the Memphis Grizzlies so far, that rematch might not come into fruition at all.
The Thunder's back is against the wall coming into Game 4 Tuesday at the grindhouse known as the FedEx Forum in Tennessee.
Through three games, the Grizzlies have outplayed Oklahoma City, allowing Durant to pile up the stats while limiting the rest of the crew to paltry outputs.
Memphis has been so solid that, if not for a late turnover by Mike Conley (and the ensuing Durant basket) in Game 1, the Thunder should have been in a 3-0 hole that no one has ever come back from in the NBA.
The Grizzlies' defense has limited OKC to a paltry 39.9 percent shooting – a very far cry from the 48.1 percent mark they set during the season. The Thunder are also scoring a lot less, with their scoring average dropping to 89.0 from 105.7 in the regular tourney.
Assists marks have also fallen for the Thunder, too, as they have just registered 13.3 dimes in this series compared to the 21.4 assists the team regularly issued throughout the season.
Of course, a lot of this regression can be attributed to the loss of Russell Westbrook, who has missed OKC's last six games – three of which the Thunder have lost.
Love him or hate him, Westbrook provides not just scoring for this young team. The lightning-quick guard puzzles defenses, facilitates the offense and also helps out on defense with his 1.8 steals per game.
Westbrook's season-ending injury has severely crippled Scott Brook's rotation, and even though Reggie Jackson (who had 16 points and 10 boards in Game 3) and Derek Fisher have been no pushovers, the two could not combine to produce what Westbrook has been delivering night in and night out for the Thunder.
Three OKC players whom we talked about in our last column – Kevin Martin, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins – were collectively more productive in Game 3, but the trio was largely ineffective, combining to shoot 12 out of 38 (31.6 percent) from the field.
So now, the Thunder need answers. And soon. Time is running out and a slew of hungry Grizzlies are ready to pounce on these young turks anytime.
Memphis has learned its lessons in 2011, when it blew a 22-point lead in the second quarter to lose Game 4 of the West semis to the very same Oklahoma City team in triple overtime, 133-123.
"All those losses really stuck," Grizzlies guard Conley, who's been pretty impressive in this series with 19.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists, told Yahoo! Sports. "We had a chance to win them, especially at home."
Now, they have pushed the Thunder's back against the wall. It is time to strike the dagger, push them to the edge of the cliff and move closer to a place they've never been to before: the conference finals.
What was once a season destined to culminate in a finals rematch with the Miami Heat has gone downhill for Durant and Oklahoma City.
And if nothing drastic changes (or if the Grizzlies do not self-destruct), then their dreams of going back to the Last Dance would be over pretty soon.