TNT’s Dick Stockton mentioned that the “survivor” of this series will meet the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals. For once, he chose the perfect word.
The Thunder out-slugged the Grizzlies over the course of a full 48-minute appetizer and three grueling overtime entrees. They head back to Oklahoma City for Wednesday’s Game 5 with a 2-2 series tie and whatever momentum is left after this marathon game.
By the time the final buzzer sounded, much of the earlier proceedings were forgotten: Memphis’ early 18-point lead, the Thunder’s seeming inability to score, the frustrating passivity of Oklahoma City’s offense.
Instead, all anyone will remember is Russell Westbrook heroically charging to the hoop time and again, like the quickest guy in a pickup game who nobody can stop. Westbrook’s career playoff-high 40 points came on 15 made field goals, only two longer than 13 feet, and 10 free throws. In the second and third quarters, he was a one-man offense as the Thunder clawed back from their early deficit.
His fellow All-Star Kevin Durant was no less titanic in deed. His 35 points included six in the game’s last three minutes, several of which came on contested jump shots.
The game was too epic in scope to recount in this space, but here are the main reasons Oklahoma City escaped, aside from the two superhuman efforts listed above.
* Quality looks. The Thunder didn’t move the ball spectacularly – most of their shots came off one-on-one play – but they took good shots when they weren’t busy committing 17 turnovers. They got to the free throw line 50 times, converting 42 of them, and spread the floor successfully in much of the second half and overtimes.
* Memphis couldn’t shoot. The Grizzlies got 111 shot attempts, compared to only 95 for their opponents, but hit just 40 of them(36%), including six of 23 three-pointers (26%). Their inability to convert jump shots allowed the Thunder to collapse inside defensively.
* Zach Randolph didn’t dominate. A strange statement about someone who collected 34 points and 16 rebounds, but remember that came in 56 minutes on the floor and that his shooting from the field was abysmal (9-25). The Thunder only sent a handful of double teams at Z-Bo, who wore down by the game’s end and couldn’t exploit single coverage the way he had in Game 1.
* Strange decision-making. Whether it was Mike Conley hoisting a silly three-pointer instead of calling time-out with a one-point deficit, or Tony Allen getting careless with the ball at the start of the third overtime and allowing James Harden to break away for a layup, the Grizzlies shot themselves in the collective foot just enough to let the game slip away.
Wednesday’s game will provide the latest entry in this saga, which has already included enough memorable plays for several series. If these teams hold true to form, you’ll have to watch every second.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.