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NBA Playoffs: Grindhouse Recap: Grizzlies 103, Thunder 97: Scratching and Clawing

The Grizzlies ground out a home win against Oklahoma City tonight, downing the Thunder 103-97 in a loud, gutty overtime win after trailing by as many as 17 in the first half.


The last time the Grizzlies and Thunder had an overtime playoff game in Memphis, I worked at the Gibson Guitar factory in downtown Memphis. I’d missed all of the games in the Spurs series, but I was at Game 4 against Oklahoma City. My shift at the factory started at 7 A.M., but I was at the Forum for all three overtimes, leaving depleted but excited, unable to talk for the next two days, so tired standing there at my workbench setting up guitars that I thought I might die—and thinking that if I did die of exhaustion, that it would be worth it to have been in the building for that game.

Tonight, the Grizzlies did not need three overtimes; they beat the Thunder in only one. But when the game started, it didn’t look like that was what was happening. It looked like the Grizzlies were about to get run out of their own building.

The first quarter started with a 7–0 Thunder run while the Grizzlies took 5 missed shots. Zach Randolph finally scored the first Griz basket at the 8:24 mark, and it looked like it was going to be a long night. The Grizzlies came out executing poorly. Tony Allen wasn’t getting his usual first-quarter layups, the defense looked like it was struggling to stay in front of Kevin Durant and struggling to keep Reggie Jackson and Thabo Sefolosha from driving to the rim unguarded.

Eventually shots started falling for the Grizzlies, but they still didn’t look right. After the first quarter, the Griz were down 29–18, they were getting outrebounded 14–7, and Keyon Dooling had already played three whole minutes.

Things did not improve in the second quarter. At one point the Grizzlies fell behind by 17 points, and the Grizzlies looked like they had come into Game 4 expecting to win and were surprised that the Thunder were executing well, as though the lack of Russell Westbrook meant they were incapable of putting up a fight. That is clearly not the case. Here are some of my anguished tweets from the second quarter[1]:

Thanks to 7 points from Mike Conley and 6 from Jerryd Bayless, and the fact that Serge Ibaka’s buzzer-beater basket was thrown out for being juuuuust a little late, the Griz only trailed 8 at halftime. It felt like the Thunder gave the Grizzlies everything they had in the first half, and it felt like if the Griz could claw their way back into the game in the third quarter, the Thunder weren’t going to play any better than they’d already played.

The defense ratcheted up the intensity to “Crazy Grizzly Loco Insane” levels—something that had been missing from the whole first half.

The third quarter was where the Grizzlies reasserted themselves in the game, and finally started to play like the Memphis Grizzlies have played all year. The Thunder scored 20 points, but the Grizzlies scored 28, led by 10 from Marc Gasol, and the defense ratcheted up the intensity to “Crazy Grizzly Loco Insane” levels—something that had been missing from the whole first half—with Tony Allen and Mike Conley both making some critical defensive plays.

The best thing that happened to the Grizzlies in the whole game was the lineup of Conley-Bayless-Allen-Randolph-Gasol that appeared towards the end of the third quarter. With three guards out there, the Grizzlies were able to capitalize on the offense of Jerryd Bayless and the defense of Tony Allen at the same time, and the Thunder started having a hard time. When that lineup entered the game, the Griz were down 68–59, and within three minutes of basketball, they trailed by a single basket, down only 72–70. By the end of the quarter, everything was tied up at 76.

That fourth quarter was intense.

Like, I ran out before it started and put on a Depends[2].

I don’t even know how to recap the fourth quarter. The Grizzlies scored a basket, and the Thunder answered. The Thunder answered, and then maybe got up by one point, and then the Grizzlies answered. Back and forth, the whole time, and all I could think about was getting the Grizzlies up by more than one possession in the end of the game so that Kevin Durant couldn’t Kevin Durant the Thunder into a 2–2 series tie.

It didn’t quite work out that way. The Grizzlies led by 2 with 10 seconds left after Marc Gasol made a free throw and missed one. Kevin Durant then… scored. On a sweet George Gervin finger roll. I was impressed. But with the game tied and 6.4 seconds left on the clock, Zach Randolph got his shot blocked by Kendrick Perkins, who was making one of his only non-terrible plays of the game.

Overtime was Strictly Grizzness[3]. Tony Allen and Zach Randolph put the Grizzlies up 98–94, but Derek Fisher made a three (yes, folks, he’s still alive) to make it 100–97.

With 21.9 seconds left in the game, Fisher was inbounding the ball in front of the Grizzlies’ bench, when Tony Allen lost his man (Durant) on the play. After the game, Allen explained that he lost Allen in traffic because of a miscommunication on a switch, and found himself standing right in the path of Fisher’s inbound pass, which Fisher was making in desperation to avoid a 5-second violation. It was a classic case of things breaking the Grizzlies’ way: Allen screws up on defense, and thus ends up making a huge defensive play. Allen stole the ball and immediately the Grizzlies called a 20-second timeout.

From there on out, it was free throws by Gasol and Tayshaun Prince, who didn’t suck in the second half. The Grizzlies walked out of a deafening Grindhouse while “Whoop That Trick” blared from the PA and blue and yellow confetti and streamers fell on the Thunder, who didn’t seem amused by the FedExForum’s choice of soundtrack.

Now that they’re up 3–1 in the series, the Grizzlies have three games (one at home) to win one game. Game 5 will be pure desperation in Oklahoma City, with the Thunder playing in front of their home crowd with nothing to lose.

If the Grizzlies can’t seal the deal on the road, it’s back to the Grindhouse for another elimination Game 6. This one feels a little less like a wrestling match than the Clippers series—probably because Griz fans don’t have a visceral hatred of the Thunder—but if the Griz bring it back home, you can bet it’s going to get loud.

For the second time in their history, the Grizzlies are one win away from the Western Conference Finals. I cannot believe this season. I cannot believe the way this team fights and claws and scratches and does not give up.

They could’ve folded tonight, and they didn’t. They could’ve bailed out after the bad first half, and said “we’ll get one on the road,” but they didn’t. They wore the Thunder down. Durant looked gassed by the start of overtime. It was great for everybody there, myself included.

Three games to win one. I like the way that sounds. All heart, huh Tony?

  1. That Dooling tweet might be from the first quarter, but Keyon Dooling isn’t very good, so I’m just gonna roll with it.

  2. If I were smarter, I would have made that an Infinite Jest reference (look that one up on Wikipedia if you’re confused).

  3. My friend Ed Arnold (of the Memphis Business Journal) was the first one to say that to me. I’m stealing it.