Grizzlies Proving Their Brand is Winning Games

DON WADE | Special to The Daily News

The long-term benefits of the Grizzlies’ 90-89 overtime win against the Oklahoma City Thunder, if there are any, won’t be known for a while. The Western Conference playoff standings are ever-changeable.

But by beating the Thunder in their only visit to FedExForum this season on Wednesday, March 20, the Grizzlies won the season series 2-1 and thus any tiebreaker for playoff seeding should it come to that (which it probably won’t given that the Thunder still had 50 wins to the Grizzlies’ 46).

The Memphis Grizzlies beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 90-89 Wednesday, thanks to stout defense and a last-second tip-in by Marc Gasol  (pictured here guarding Kevin Durant) in overtime. (Photo: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports)

So perhaps just as important, the Grizzlies delivered the ultimate Grit & Grind message by winning when they shot 36 percent but held the Thunder to 35.7 percent.

“You can’t look past them,” said OKC’s Kevin Westbrook.

The Grizzlies shouted this truth in the paint where Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol doubled down on the double-double as Z-Bo scored 15 points with 18 rebounds and Gasol scored 14 points with 15 rebounds. This mattered even more because the officiating crew seemed loathe to call fouls on OKC’s Nick Collison even as he all but committed felony assault around the basket.

Predictably, Randolph was whistled for a technical and when that happened with 3:29 left to play, momentum did a two-step the wrong direction. At the 1:26 mark when Kevin Martin drained a 3, the Thunder lead was at 6 and there was little reason to believe in a comeback. But taking a cue from the NCAA Tournament, where games seem to never end, the Grizzlies kept working the clock and going for 2 instead of rushing to take 3s and then when they had to have a 3, Jerryd Bayless was there to hit a contested 3 to send the game into overtime on the way to finishing with 20 points.

“JB played great at the end,” said point guard Mike Conley, who was equally fantastic with a season-high 24 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Only, the real end didn’t come until, fittingly, Gasol tipped in the winning shot off a Randolph miss to win the game.

“Just crashing the boards and got lucky,” Gasol said with a big shrug.

It was lucky only if persistence is lucky. Only if doing the dirty work is lucky.

“It wasn’t a beautiful game offensively,” Gasol said, “but we did enough to keep living and at the end we won.”

And yes, the whole night felt like an echo from the 7-game second-round playoff series the Thunder won over the Grizz two years ago.

“They took our conference title hopes away,” Tony Allen said. “Every time we play them, guys get up and go out and compete.”

And on the other side …

“You know what they do,” said Kevin Durant, who went for 32 points and 8 rebounds in the losing effort. “ They grind it out, put it in the paint, feed their big guys. … So no matter who is on their roster they are going to do the same things.”

It’s just that they seem to do them even better. Conley is increasingly becoming a dual threat – scoring and playmaking – and the Grizzlies are 9-0 when he scores 20 or more points. Which is why Allen says it’s time for Conley to be mentioned in the same breath as Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Westbrook. At least the way he’s playing now.

The team defense is even more impressive; this was the first time since opening night in San Antonio that the Thunder were held to less than 90 points and lost. In fact, the Grizzlies’ defense is so good that Tayshaun Prince feels no need to deflect the idea that this team is as tough and defensive-minded as the 2004 world champion Detroit Pistons team that, like the Grizzlies, had no need for a superstar. The team was simply dedicated to playing full out all the time.

“I don’t want to say this team is (consistently) at that level yet because I played there a long time and that team did it for a long time. But,” Prince said, “there are similarities.”