OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies are ready to rumble again.
Two years after slugging it out in a Western Conference semifinal series that went the full seven games, the two rough-and-tumble rivals will square off again starting in Game 1 in Oklahoma City on Sunday.
The Thunder prevailed against Memphis in the last playoff series, which featured a triple-overtime game and another with just one overtime. There’s been no love lost since then between the teams, who combined for nine technical fouls in three meetings this season.
Grizzlies star Zach Randolph and Oklahoma City enforcer Kendrick Perkins were ejected in one of the games, with a confrontation that continued off the court and into the hallway outside both teams’ locker rooms.
With even more on the line, the tension should only increase.
“That’s their DNA. That’s what they do, and that’s what we do. Guys are going to go out there pushing and shoving, and it’s going to be a really physical series,” Thunder star Kevin Durant said. “That’s what both teams do. That’s what we hang our hats on.”
And neither team is the type to back down.
Just look at the Randolph-Perkins showdown, back in a November game lacking the high stakes of the playoffs.
The Grizzlies had seemingly salted the game away with back-to-back buckets inside by Randolph and Marc Gasol to go up by 12 when, between a pair of Russell Westbrook free-throw attempts with 2:05 left, Perkins and Randolph started chirping at each other.
They both were ejected, kept screaming at each other and then took off toward opposite tunnels so they could continue the fracas elsewhere. Randolph confronted Perkins outside the Thunder locker room, later getting fined $25,000 by the NBA, and explained in his postgame interview: “There’s a lot of bluffing going on on the court, that’s all. And I don’t bluff.”
Memphis, known as the Bluff City for its river banks and not false claims, turned Randolph’s comments into a team slogan — “We Don’t Bluff” — to put on billboards and rally towels.
But Randolph, who also got ejected from his last game after going toe-to-toe with the Clippers’ Blake Griffin repeatedly in that series, said this next round can’t be all about bluster.
“I got to keep my cool because that plays into their hands. So I’m going to go out just like they were trying to get me off my square during the (Clippers) series,” said Randolph, who averaged 24.8 points in Memphis’ four straight wins. “I just kept my head and just play.”
The Thunder wouldn’t make Perkins available to reporters after their practice Saturday.
“We’ve got to be the team that hits first in this series,” Durant said. “It’s going to be a tough and fun series.”
The Grizzlies won two of the three regular-season meetings, with their only loss coming in Oklahoma City just after top scorer Rudy Gay had been traded away — and before Tayshaun Prince and other newly acquired players had arrived.
The only meeting since then was won by Memphis on its home floor by a single point in overtime.
Of course, much has changed even since then. Westbrook, Oklahoma City’s All-Star point guard, is out for the rest of the playoffs after knee surgery. The Thunder went 2-2 without him, winning at Houston on Friday night to close out that series in six games.
“They’re not just a one-man team,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said. “They’re a good team, and we have to go play and earn whatever we get in this series. I feel good about our team simply because where we’re at mentally and physically. We’re in good health and we’ve been playing pretty decent. That’s why I feel pretty good about my team.
“I’m not worried about who they have or don’t have. We have to go out ... and play according to our abilities.”
Memphis became the first team ever to lose the first two games of a playoff series, then win each of the next four by double figures.
“We’ve got to refocus our attention to another really good team,” point guard Mike Conley said. “We have got great incentive to play. This team has handled us and knocked us out two years ago. We have great games against them. It’s another one of those teams — in order to achieve the goals we want to get, we have to go through them.”
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Memphis, Tenn., contributed to this report.