Game Four of this Western Conference Semifinals series between our Memphis Grizzlies and the Oklahoma City Thunder will likely always be remembered as a standalone gem in this year's version of the NBA Playoffs, and possibility all-time. It will be revered as the culmination of the two small market, beautifully unique and entertaining basketball teams who shouldn't be in this spot now, or maybe ever, pushing themselves beyond the brink of normality and into the unforgettable.
You won't get any argument from me on the awesomeness of Game Four, but it was also Game Four. The Grizzlies and Thunder are tied at 2 going into Game Five tonight in Oklahoma City, and if Monday night was the peak, the erupting volcano, then whichever team is still covered in more ash will be telling in who gets one game closer to the Western Conference Finals.
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For as well as Game Four started for the Grizzlies, you may not think they ever held a lead, because as soon as the Oklahoma City power struggle storyline escalated, Memphis took a major backseat as the situation in OKC has become the prevailing storyline of the series, if not the one of the most-discussed in the entire postseason thus far: Who has, and who should, have control over the Thunder offense? For most of the night Monday, it was Russell Westbrook, with Kevin Durant in tow doing his best to keep on the straightened arrow. He couldn't do it forever, eventually releasing his frustration first on assistant coach Maurice Cheeks, and then on the Grizzlies in the third overtime when he sealed the victory.
Now, because everyone must address this, I know, there's no question that Westbrook forces, takes, and many times misses questionable shots. But really, it was his ruthless, at-times defiant and almost akin to self-prophetic attacking of the Memphis defense that kept Oklahoma City in the contest, eventually even giving them the lead. James Harden, to a lesser extent of course, was aggressive throughout as well.
The Grizzlies could not stop their continuing strikes on the rim, the fouls piled up (they eventually lost Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo in overtime to fouls), as did the free throws. Memphis coughed up that big lead because they let things get too hay-wire -- even for their standards -- and before they knew it, they couldn't summon the fundamental skills needed to execute down the admittedly exhausting stretch. They needed, and got, somehow, two huge threes, they gave themselves the opportunities, but they just couldn't make the consistently right decision when it was time. The Grizzlies don't have much else to be upset with, though; to see them work so hard for so long against themselves, the time, and, oh yeah, the Thunder was incredible. It was another definitive sign of what we already know: Memphis won't go away quietly, or really, at all.
Basically, the overall aggressive, out-of-control tone of Game Four was its primary driving force. Players from both sides just seemed more agitated, more frustrated, and, when things were going well, more fired-up towards the game's action. For all that is different between these squads, whether it be the personalities or strengths, the major tie that binds them was never more apparent: We're watching two young, relatively inexperienced teams work through their issues under the glare of the postseason. In this way Memphis and Oklahoma City are in the same boat. They're seeing themselves in the opposition -- and how the magnitude of every decision and of each mistake made is so amplified -- and how it's all affecting the guys on the other side largely the same.
The series felt like it might boil over on all sides -- for the Thunder from within, for the Grizzlies from any semblance of control -- but the epic that Game Four became maybe has reset everything. The focus for tonight won't be on the Grizzlies or even the basketball game itself to start, outside of who should be taking which shots and in what volume for Oklahoma City. This isn't a bad thing. In Game Five, Memphis can leave the disappointment of Game Four behind, in the process reminding us all, and themselves, what it means to define organized chaos.
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