The topsy-turvy whirlwind rollercoaster that was the Memphis Grizzlies 2013-2014 season has officially come to an end. On the road in a Game 7 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and doing so without their All-Star power forward, the Grizzlies just couldn't pull this one out.
Let no one say they didn't fight. Dave Joerger, who has been maligned and criticized all season long, took a chance and inserted Mike Miller and Tony Allen into the starting line-up. The results, in the first quarter, were sexy.
Riding the momentum of stealing Game 6 in Memphis, the Thunder came out strong, taking an early 7-point lead. The Grizzlies took a timeout, and then found a rhythm, getting buckets from all over the floor. Taking advantage of the smaller lineup they put on the floor, Memphis began to move at a much quicker pace. That caught the Thunder off guard, causing them to commit uncharacteristic turnovers and fouls in transition. Memphis made six trips to the line for 11 attempts in the quarter, and missed only one. Without Zach Randolph taking up position on the low post, Memphis, and specifically Marc Gasol, found that there was a lot of room to operate. The big fella cashed in 13 points in the first quarter, and paced the Grizzlies as they led 36-27 after one.
In the second quarter, it was Oklahoma City who cashed in at the free throw line. Returning the first quarter favor, the Thunder made 7 trips to the charity stripe as they worked to erase the Grizzlies' lead. Memphis maintained a 10-point advantage with 8:40 to play in the quarter, and then their new offense hit a lull, going almost four full minutes before scoring again. Kevin Durant led the way for the Thunder in the quarter, scoring 13 of his game high 33, including a big 3 to break a 58 all tie and give the Thunder the lead heading into halftime.
Oklahoma City came out firing on all cylinders in the third, making sure Memphis knew there would be no comebacks in this one. The Thunder scored 10 points in the first 1:59 of the period, ballooning their lead up to 11 over the shorthanded Grizzlies. Memphis struggled for answers the entire quarter, and found none on either end of the court. On defense, they gave up wide-open looks at the basket, and even when they found themselves in position to contest a 3, the Thunder cashed in anyway. On offense, their first field goal came 5:25 into the quarter. In all, they were outscored 33-23, and headed into the final 12 minutes of their season down by 13.
Grizzly fans who had been clamoring all series and season long for no fourth quarter drama got their wish, as Memphis couldn't get within single digits the rest of the way. A couple more free throws, and two of the Thunder's 11 3-pointers spelled the end for the Grizzlies, who trailed by as much as 20 in the quarter. Memphis refused to quit, taking advantage of the last minutes they would play in the season, and due in part that fight and a little garbage time, outscored the Thunder by two in the quarter and lost 120-109.
Game Notes from the Legend-wait for it-Diary
- Hats off to Dave Joerger. This was the best line-up choice, and even though they got absolutely pummeled on defense, it was the right call. After an incredibly trying first season at the helm, I think Joerger has shown that Memphis is in good hands.
- Mike Miller took three (3) shots in a must win game. I don't care how heavily you're guarded, that can't happen. He passed a couple of solid looks, but overall was disappointed tonight.
- On a bad hamstring, Mike Conley came out and dropped 20 and 9. He had 4 turnovers, which seemed like fewer compared to his counterpart, but overall, Mike was spectacular in this one. The Grizzlies prized point guard is in the prime of his career, and the next few seasons should be really, really fun watching him.
- James Johnson: DNP-CD. I think it's safe to say the Bloodsport Era is officially over in the Bluff City.
- The Grizzlies were 3-0 when they gave up a 4-point play, 0-4 when they did not.
- Several people mentioned that this was the best the Grizzlies had played in a long time, and I don't really agree with that. The offense was fun and efficient, but the defense was terrible. Memphis held the Thunder to 80 points in regulation this series, so I don't buy the argument it had been "lacking" for weeks. The Thunder did hit a ridiculous amount of contested shots, but they also got a lot of wide open looks, and any time you give up 120 points, I don't think you can file that under "best games of the year."
- Kevin Durant is still the best scorer in the league, in case anyone forgot.
- Kendrick Perkins and Steven Adams were a combined 5-5 from the floor for 12 points. I defy anyone to find a more disgusting stat.
- Memphis was 30-34 from the free throw line. If they had shot that well in any of their other losses, this series would not have made it to a Game 7.
- Memphis is now 0-3 in Game 7s in franchise history.
Guys, this one hurts. This has been a long, grueling, and lonely season. The ups were at an incredible altitude and had an amazing view, and the lows were gut wrenching and well beneath sea level. For anyone doing a point-counterpoint for everything that is great and everything that is awful about being a sports fanatic, this season could fuel both sides of the debate for years.
Memphis is now left with several questions to answer. Can we find someone to take Tayshaun's expiring contract? Does Zach Randolph opt out? If he does, will we re-sign him? Do the Grizzlies bother offering James Johnson a contract? What about Ed Davis? The questions are legion, and at the moment, I don't want to answer or hear any of them.
It's been a heck of a season, both good and bad. A lot of things can be said about this team, but let no one every question their heart. This was a game they had no business being close in, and they fought with every ounce of energy they had left in their bodies. In the end, it just wasn't enough. The team that played in the Conference Finals last year will be watching the rest of the playoffs from their sofas, and I don't have the words to express how badly that sucks.
Drink up, Memphis. It will be several months before we see our beloved ball players take the court again, and chances are, they'll look significantly different. Take heart, because they'll still be formidable, and with any luck, they'll be healthy and ready to get right back in the mix of the Western Conference playoff picture next season. For now though, they're left licking their wounds and thinking about what might have been.