Before the game even started, it was a very Memphis occasion.
Chicken and waffles in the media room, The Bar-Kays singing the National Anthem. The FedExForum faithful seemed to magically appear, an arena that was half empty with 15 minutes to go suddenly filled with life and ferocity as the Growl Towels waved, anticipating the start of Game 3 in the Bluff City. This is a very Memphis skill, it would seem, not always being there early, but being there when needed. The Grizzlies have learned this skill during their stay in Memphis as well. The old and the new of Memphis was on display on this night, and for those in attendance it was a showing of what this team, and the FedExForum, really mean to this city.
The Grizzlies of Memphis tend to have a lot in common with their city when it comes to the arriving-late trait, especially offensively. A 33% shooting start through the first 7 minutes is not out of the ordinary for the Bears of Beale Street, nor is the effort that multiple players showed early on. It is a Grizzlies' playoff staple that, more often than not, the Grit and Grind will outweigh the shoot and the score.
Whether it was Courtney Lee scraping for the ball on the floor or Tony Allen being his usual Grindfather self, flying around with reckless abandon, the Grizzlies were at their "We in the Mud" best. One for fourteen outside the paint for both teams to start and a Grizzlies game, as we have come to expect, had begun with such shooting of the basketball.
What we do not expect is getting in to the bonus early, which Memphis did with good aggressive looks at the rim, or actually converting on those opportunities at a decent clip (100% in the first quarter.) We also do not anticipate the Thunder owning the offensive glass early, or OKC actually scoring the ball in the paint on pace with a team that has Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph as their starting bigs.
Gasol's 2 early fouls played a role in this; while Kosta Koufos had some productive minutes, he is no former Defensive Player of the Year and the Thunder got some good looks at the basket. Tony Allen was the constant creator of chaos, however, and thanks to his energy and 5 assists, Memphis ended the quarter up 24-18.
The start of the second quarter was preceded by another very old Memphis moment, the annual appearance of wrestling icon Jerry "The King" Lawler as he helped save (in true babyface fashion) King Grizz from a wrestler in Oklahoma City attire. From one Memphis legend to another, Tony Allen once again took control early, attacking the glass, getting to the rim and hitting a jumper en route to scoring the first 6 points of the quarter for Memphis.
A new budding Memphis cult hero, Beno Udrih, made his impact felt with a jumper, but for every made basket the Thunder matched to keep the game hovering right around an 8 point lead for the Grizzlies. Gasol's foul issues clearly were affecting his ability to be aggressive, and the Thunder continued to take advantage with 20 of their first 24 points being scored in the paint. The crowd was feeling it as Beno Udrih continued to influence the game and the Thunder were showing their frustration, down double digits with 5:51 to go in the half.
The Thunder's cold shooting (38% through 16 minutes) was a product of good Grizzlies defense. Jumpers were contested, and as the 2nd quarter went on Memphis did a better job of helping off of shooters and condensing the paint, forcing OKC to have to start hitting outside shots. Also, when Kevin Durant plays poorly (4 made field goals, 4 turnovers through 22 minutes of play), the Thunder will likely have issues. (Editor's Note: Superstar!!)
A negative trend that is beginning to get old is the poor officiating, on both ends of the court. Missed out of bounds calls, Kendrick Perkins literally sitting on Mike Miller, it all got the FedEx Forum even more fired up. The Thunder began chipping away at the Grizzlies lead, getting it down to 6 at one point, and another negative trend reared its ugly head: finishing quarters and halves poorly. A Mike Conley jumper made things a bit better, as did the solid-final-possession defense, leading to a Grizzlies 8 point lead as the first half ended, a very Memphis half that saw Tayshaun Prince
sadly get more time than Courtney Lee, Mike Miller and Tony Allen.
Halftime Score- Memphis 44, Oklahoma City 36
The third quarter began with an aggressive Mike Conley drive and more scoring struggles from the Thunder; when Kendrick Perkins scores your first basket, things are not necessarily going well. The new Memphis trend of timely three point shooting continued with a made Courtney Lee bucket, and another new Memphis trend, an aggressively scoring Mike Conley, hits a floater that had the roof of the Grindhouse ready to pop off as 18,000+ strong waived their Growl Towels in unison while the Thunder called an early timeout to regroup, trailing by 13.
Coming out of the timeout, Russell Westbrook tried to go to work, aggressively looking for his shot. The at-times-worst of Memphis helped to negate this, as Tayshaun Prince showed some life and met Westbrook punch for scoring punch. (Editor's note: first palpitation) This season's new starting shooting guard Courtney Lee chipped in with timely defense and scoring of his own. The Thunder began to get transition opportunities, and as the pace of the game began to increase Coach Joerger wisely called a timeout to reorganize his charges.
An old Memphis tradition carried the Grizzlies through the quarter, inside scoring and team defense. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph's chemistry was palpable as they fed off of each other and the chanting crowd to take the game and conform it their own. That sparked a Grizzlies' run that seemed to overflow into the stands behind tremendous scoring from Mike Conley and defensive intensity that the Thunder simply could not match. Kevin Durant, an offensive maestro, was missing lay-ups and mishandling passes for turnovers. OKC was flailing and Memphis had a 17 point lead after a 7-0 run.
Derek Fisher, of course, hits a three to stem the Grizzly tide and the Thunder pulled back within 10 after a 7-0 scoring run of their own. Russell Westbrook made this quarter his own, scoring the ball at a very good clip. While the bad Memphis trend of poor ends to quarters continued, the Grindhouse refused to turn down for anything, and heading into the fourth quarter Memphis held a 71-61 lead.
A familiar sight helped Memphis start the fourth with a score, Tony Allen and Zach Randolph working in tandem for a Z-Bo lay-up. We saw the best and worst of Zach Randolph on this night: timely scoring, 5 assists and 10 rebounds for the usual double double. His shooting woes from the field continued, however, as his shooting percentage hovered around 30% for much of the game.
Tony Allen continued to be the heart of Memphis' energy, gathering offensive rebounds and slashing to the rim. Beno Udrih's ability to score in bunches in relief of Mike Conley continued to pay dividends, and his bench play, in conjunction with that of Kosta Koufos in particular (+16 +/- in 16 minutes of play, +9 to finish), helped grow the lead back to 17 with 7:43 to go.
The worst of this season's Memphis gave the Thunder 3 free points, a
phantom foul on a three point shot. This spurred on another 7-0 run for the Thunder, this time in only 1 minute of playing time which showcased the explosive potential of this Oklahoma City roster. The game stayed at a 10 point lead for Memphis until OKC got in to the bonus with 5 minutes to go in the game. With the Thunder being a terrific foul shooting team all season long, Memphis was not out of the woods just yet. OKC got it within 7 after more free throws.
The crowd got increasingly restless as OKC pulled within 5 after multiple Z-Bo isolations burned the eyes of many within the Forum. A Grizzlies offense that had so much success with its multiple-option-free-flowing sets was being bogged down as the ball died in Zach's hands. A Durant dunk and Westbrook 3 tied the game with a minute to go, a 17-0 run since the foul call.
The run ended with the old guard that is "The Grindfather", the protector of all that is "All Heart, Grit and Grind." A 4 point run for TA showed arguably the biggest Trick or Treat moment in history; TA gets Memphis the lead back, then fouls Russell Westbrook on a three point attempt that goes in. 4 point play, tie game, 26 seconds to go.
But then, the ultimate in old and new Memphis came through; "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey and thousands of Growl Towels in the air. A collective moment of unity in a community that is so often divided for a variety of reasons. The true beauty of playoff basketball in Memphis came through; despite it all, this team has brought folks from so many walks of life together. With the peaks and valleys, and wins and losses, the city celebrates and mourns together. Nowhere is this more certain than at a tied game at the FedExForum.
Mike Conley's lay-up attempt missed, and with 2.4 seconds left OKC had a long chance for Kevin Durant go awry. Free basketball had come back to the Grindhouse, and Grizz Nation around the country was again united in their collective angst. (Editor's note: 3rd cardiac arrest)
End of the Fourth Quarter- Memphis 85, Oklahoma City 85
Overtime - AKA The Hunger Games
The overtime period began with a seal off and-one opportunity for Kevin Durant, which he converted. The cornerstones of the Memphis Grizzlies, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, stepped up when needed, scoring 7 straight points to give the Grizzlies a 4 point lead with 2:49 to go in the OT. Tony Allen continued to wreak absolute havoc on the court, rebounding, defending, his energy was felt through the sea of Grizzlies faithful. His impact was especially felt by Kevin Durant who shot 10-23 for the game and 1-11 from outside of the paint. TA played with energy as if the game had just started and that made quite the difference for Memphis in the overtime period.
A Conley to Gasol pass made the lead 5 with a minute to go. As most Grizzlies fans have learned in this series alone, that lead is by no means safe. The Grit and the Grind of sheer effort eventually won the day, as the Grizzlies fought for rebounds and did their best to close out on shooters. Courtney Lee hit three free throws to ice the game, and as streamers hit the floor and hands were raised in victory after a questionable foul, another old feeling came over the Grindhouse believers; this was the 15th straight win at home for Memphis, and while it most certainly was not an easy one, the home court advantage had been kept on this night, and Memphis went up 2-1 in the series.
Russell Westbrook questioned the nickname of the FedEx Forum before the game, refusing to call it "The Grindhouse." What Russ fails to understand is, call it whatever you want, but it is what is the best of both old, and new, Memphis, Tennessee: the history, the diversity, the intensity and fire, the booming music from various eras and unrelenting fight shown in the eyes of Tony Allen and the roar of Marc Gasol.
As Coach Joerger put it in his post game presser, this team feeds off of the energy of the FedEx Forum crowd. That is Memphis; in one way or another, we feed off each other, sometime for the worst, sometimes for the better. In these Memphis Grizzlies it is for the best, and thanks to the efforts of the old and new of Memphis this series is now firmly in the control of those who call the Grindhouse it's true name; home.