Moments before Game 4 of the Grizzlies-Oklahoma City playoff series tipped off at FedExForum Monday night, Tony Allen, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol stood at midcourt to be recognized for making the NBA’s All-Defensive teams (Allen first-team, Gasol and Conley second-team).
It was a nice honor. But then the game started. And the Thunder, to quote Memphis coach Lionel Hollins, “came out firing” and ran out to a 17-point lead. Even at the half, though the Grizzlies had cut the Thunder’s lead to 8 points, OKC was shooting a sizzling 53.8 percent from the field.
All-defense? More like no defense.
But over time – 48 minutes of regulation and 5 minutes of overtime – the Grizzlies played like the team that earned three All-Defensive team selections. In the fourth quarter and overtime they held the scoring machine that is Kevin Durant to 5 points on 2-of-13 shooting and walked away with a 103-97 victory and a 3-1 lead in this best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series.
“We knew that first half wasn’t our best style of basketball,” Allen said in a rather large understatement.
“We play together, trust each other,” Gasol said when asked about their defensive stand after halftime. “That’s the only way we know how to do it and I love it.”
The score was tied 92-92 with under a minute left in the fourth quarter when Zach Randolph and Gasol each split a pair of free throws to leave the Grizzlies with a 94-92 lead with 10.9 seconds to play. The Thunder called a timeout and then did what everyone in the building knew they would do: give the ball to Durant, who drove the lane and finger-rolled in a shot to tie the score at 94-94 with 6.4 seconds left.
Randolph then tried to force a shot over Kendrick Perkins and Perkins blocked it to send the game into overtime. Two years ago in Game 4, the Thunder tied the series with Memphis by winning a triple-overtime game in the Western semifinals. But this time, the Grizzlies outscored the Thunder 9-3 in the extra period and shut out Durant, who still finished with a game-high 27 points.
“We can’t stop him from getting his numbers,” Allen said. “The best thing we can do is keep a fresh body on him, rotate guys and have our bigs help as much as possible.”
Durant played 48 minutes and finished 10-for-27 from the field, 5-of-7 from 3-point range, with 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 turnovers. He rejected the notion that the minutes were wearing him down, saying “It is midnight and my bedtime is usually 12 o’clock. It’s past my bedtime. Other than that, I’m good.”
“He is our horse,” said the Thunder’s Kevin Martin, who had 18 points off the bench. “We are going to keep feeding him.”
The Grizz fed Gasol and Randolph – 23 points each – and Conley led the way with 24, including hitting 4-of-10 from 3-point range. But Gasol hit perhaps the biggest shot of the game when he beat the shot clock with a 15-footer with 22.8 seconds left in overtime to give Memphis a 100-97 lead.
Although no one from the Grizzlies’ bench reached double-figures and OKC’s reserves outscored them 31-15, guard Jerryd Bayless contributed mightily by hitting a pair of 3-pointers in the Grizzlies’ 30-point second quarter.
“J.B. got us going in the first half,” Hollins said. “He closed the gap for us after we got down 17.”
The Grizzlies’ mind-set when down 17?
“Chip away,” Randolph said.
“We scratch,” Hollins said. “We claw.”
And so what easily could have been an OKC blowout and an even series now goes back to the Thunder’s home court Wednesday night for Game 5, the Grizzlies but one game away from reaching their first-ever conference finals.
More scratching and clawing is to be expected.
“We know what we have to do,” Randolph said. “It’s not over yet.”