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VOL. 129 | NO. 86 | Friday, May 2, 2014

Thunder's 'Easy Points' Take Grizz Down 104-84

By Don Wade

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In a season dedicated to doing things the hard way, the Memphis Grizzlies are now face-to-face with a Game 7 on Saturday in Oklahoma City.

Able to survive blowing leads, able to win three of four overtime games to take a 3-2 series lead over the No. 2 seed Thunder, the Grizzlies could not stomach their fleeting prosperity. In fact, they could not even make Game 6 Thursday night on their home court anything close to competitive.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

The Thunder defeated the Grizzlies 104-84 at FedExForum as Mr. Kevin Durant provided an answer to a Thursday morning headline from an Oklahoma City newspaper that reduced him to “Mr. Unreliable” because of his struggle to shoot an efficient percentage as Tony Allen and the rest of the Grizzlies slowed the league’s presumptive MVP.

But in Game 6, Durant matched his series high with 36 points (on 11-for-23 shooting) and scored 14 of those points on the free-throw line. He also scored 14 points in the first quarter, and by halftime the Grizzlies trailed by 15. They never got closer than that in the second half.

“They hit us first,” Allen said. “They were the aggressors, and they played harder than us. It’s kind of embarrassing when you come out here with fans chanting your name, screaming your name and pulling for you.”

Durant might as well have been screaming “I told you so” at the person who wrote that headline. But he insisted that’s not what fueled him.

“We were down 3-2. We were on the brink of elimination,” Durant said. “Headlines, not gonna give them credit for nothing. Down 3-2, that’s more motivation than anything.”

Unfortunately, the Grizzlies have concerns beyond a motivated Durant and a pretty dialed-in Russell Westbrook, who scored 25 points with nine rebounds, five assists and three steals

First, point guard Mike Conley went out of Game 6 with a right hamstring strain. Though he briefly returned in the fourth quarter, the Grizzlies sent him back to the locker room after less than a minute of trying to play through pain. Conley said the hamstring was “excruciating,” but also said nothing would stop him from playing in Game 7.

Meanwhile, Thunder coach Scott Brooks changed things up by inserting Caron Butler into the starting lineup alongside Westbrook in the backcourt in place of Thabo Sefolosha. Although Butler only scored seven points with four rebounds and three assists in just under 29 minutes, he hit 2 of 4 threes and helped change the dynamics of the OKC offense.

“We spread it out a little bit,” Durant said. “Caron came in and got some shots.”

With a lineup that often had four 3-point shooting threats on the floor at a time, the Grizzlies were sometimes left to try and close out on a shooter with center Marc Gasol or power forward Zach Randolph coming all the way out from the low post.

All of that worked against the Grizzlies, even though the Thunder still just shot 33.3 percent (7-for-21) from beyond the arc.

“They got too many easy points,” Gasol said. “Seventeen fastbreak points, 42 points in the paint, that’s way too many.”

Said Memphis coach Dave Joerger: “They played with a lot of force, a lot of desperation and urgency.”

And Durant?

“Durant went first and he ate first,” Joerger said. “He made shots that he’s been missing.”

If there is any solace to be taken, it is from two things: First, each team is 2-1 on the road in this series. Home-court advantage has been a misnomer so far.

Even Durant said, “We love having home-court advantage but it doesn’t guarantee a ‘W.’”

“We’ve won there before,” Joerger said. “We believe we can win there again.”

The Grizzlies battled back from being 10-15 in December. They survived a 10-13 stretch when Gasol was out with a knee injury. They have been playing must-win games for days, weeks, months. In theory, they’re used to the feeling of their collective backs pressed against the wall.

“Our mindset’s the same,” Gasol said. “We know we’re gonna take a couple of punches. We’re not gonna go down (without a fight). That’s not going to change next game.”

Said Joerger: “This is it. It doesn’t matter if you’re tired, hurt, nicked up or not. This is the performance we’ve been looking for all season long. Unfortunately, it didn’t come (in Game 6). So for Game 7, it has to be there.”

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