Through five playoff games, four overtimes and three wins in overtime, the Memphis Grizzlies have played fast and loose with opportunities.
Memphis Grizzlies forward Mike Miller (13) shoots over Oklahoma City Thunder guard Reggie Jackson (15) in overtime of Game 5 of an opening-round NBA basketball playoff series in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, April 29, 2014. Memphis won 100-99 in overtime.
Big leads have evaporated – see that 20-point advantage in the third quarter of Game 5 at Oklahoma City Tuesday night – and late leads have been squandered – see that five-point cushion with about a minute to go in the Game 4 loss at FedExForum.
Yet, the Grizzlies are the verge of becoming just the second seven seed to knock off a two seed in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
“This team’s been built off defying the odds,” point guard Mike Conley said before Wednesday’s practice, and a day before the Grizzlies carry their 3-2 series lead over the Thunder into a 7 p.m. Game 6 Thursday night at FedExForum.
As for losing those leads and surviving it, veteran Mike Miller, who provided a huge boost with 21 points and five threes in the 100-99 overtime win in Game 5, said: “Unfortunately, we’ve been able to use what happened in the past (surviving blown leads) to our advantage … we are mentally tough in those situations.”
Judging by the Thunder’s body language during much of Game 5 and the downbeat coming from stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in the post-game press conference, the opposition may have some internal work to do before tip-off Thursday night.
That said, no one believes the Thunder will bring a white flag to Memphis.
“The closeout game is the most important,” Conley said. “We’ve got to understand that we’ve got to continue to fight, and to play, with the same hunger, the same urgency.”
Said Miller: “We’re 3-2, but the series is a long way from being done. I told the guys that in Miami we are on the other side of it.”
Like in the NBA Finals last year against San Antonio. The Heat won Game 6 and Game 7 for their second straight NBA title.
Memphis coach Dave Joerger has given the team plenty of days off late in the season and even between playoff games. But with the Grizzlies one win from clinching, the stronger desire was for focus on the task at hand.
“Imagine how tired we’d be if we were coming home behind,” Joerger said.
Asked if the series has been as tough as he envisioned, Joerger said, “Not four overtimes in consecutive games, no … but we’ve stayed together. We don’t quit. Guys play for each other.”
They did it again in Game 5 in Oklahoma City. Meanwhile, back in Memphis, the populace was dying with every play, including the Westbrook steal and layup that sent the game into overtime and the Serge Ibaka putback that was about two-tenths of a second too late to count.
Miller said he even got a text from someone asking if the Grizzlies could please make things easier.
“That wouldn’t be Memphis Grizzlies style,” Miller said.