The Oklahoma City Thunder seemed to have capture the momentum. After the Grizzlies took game one, the Thunder did a good job taking at least one win with them on the road by winning game two and in the third quarter of game three it looked like they’d be well on their way to regaining homecourt advantage. But whoever it looked that way to forgot they were playing the Memphis Grizzlies, the one team left in the post-season that seems incapable of ever giving up or quiting on a game because they are down big. Memphis didn’t give up, they manufactured easy baskets with terrific offensive execution and they played some of the best team defense I’ve seen all season long on their way to pulling off an impressive 101-93 overtime victory to take a 2-1 series advantage over the Thunder.
Memphis was able to hold the Thunder to 10 fourth quarter points. That’s less than a point per minute, which is almost unheard of in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. The Thunder had an eight minute stretch in the fourth when they were unable to make a field goal. The Thunder were reduced to Russell Westbrook dribbling around the floor, trying to find teammates that just couldn’t get open. Westbrook figures to get a lot of the blame for OKC”s horrific offensive quarter but all the credit goes to Memphis’ stellar team defense and the Thunder’s lack of an offense outside of their predictable 1/3 pick and roll with Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
The Grizzlies had a chance to win the game with four seconds left and the game tied at 86 after they forced Kevin Durant to miss a fallaway 22-footer from the right wing. Memphis didn’t get a great look as Zach Randolph was forced to take a stepback three-pointer and the game was sent to overtime. Memphis would make up for that mistake, though. The Grizzlies dominated the overtime period from the start, getting things going with a Tony Allen lay-up on a basket cut on the first play of the period. On the next play Mike Conley saw a hole in the defense and got to the basket easily for another lay-up. The Grizzlies only went one possession without a score the rest of the extra session while the Thunder continued to struggle getting good looks from the field aside from two plays when James Harden acted as the point guard and was able to set-up two easy buckets.
The Grizzlies’ defense on Durant was what got them back in the game. I’ve been praising Tony Allen’s perimeter defense all season long and what he did to Manu Ginobili in the first round was fantastic. But his defense against Kevin Durant in this series has been awe inspiring. He’s beating Durant to his spots, he’s staying glued to his body on all ball screen action, he’s poking the ball away from Durant constantly and he’s getting a hand up on every single one of his jumpshots. Durant finished this game 10-of-24 from the field and missed nine of his last 11 shots. Allen was in his face on all of his fourth quarter and overtime shot attempts and on the one rare occasion that Durant did get an open look his confidence was already shot and he threw up a brick. What’s even more impressive than Allen holding Durant to 2-of-11 during the final stretch of the game was that Allen held him to just 11 shot attempts. A lot of OKC supporters are calling for Westbrook’s head for not getting Durant the ball late in the game but the truth is that Allen was denying him as well as anyone could have without fouling. Allen prevented Durant from catching the ball and when he did catch it he was still all over Durant like a junkyard dog. Shockingly, Durant was also held to just one free throw attempt in this game and he missed it.
With Durant not getting open Westbrook was forced to overdribble, take some pretty poor shots and turn the ball over when he was forced to create something late in the shotclock. Westbrook shot just seven-of-22 from the field and turned it over seven times in this game. His final line of 23 points, 12 assists and six rebounds is nice but his turnovers, poor shooting numbers and six personal fouls were all major drawbacks. Westbrook played some pretty good defense on Mike Conley throughout the game but in the fourth quarter Conley started being a bit more aggressive and was able to free himself up for a few good looks.
Memphis two offensive workhorses were off as well, which is why this was a very important win for Memphis. The Thunder had shut down the Grizzlies’ big men and game two and were able to win and the same thing happened in the San Antonio series when the Spurs limited Memphis’ points in the paint. It’s always encouraging when a team is able to win on an off night from their stars and that’s what Memphis did.
That being said, Zach Randolph’s final line makes it hard to say that he had an off night. Memphis’ workhorse had himself a great overall game though his shooting was off. Randolph finished with 21 points and 21 rebounds but he missed 14 of his 22 shots from the field as well. He didn’t meet the one point per shot standard that I usually use to qualify all 20-point games as efficient or not but he was able to make up for his off shooting by crashing the glass and securing eight offensive rebounds. Those eight rebounds led to several easy putbacks that Randolph has become famous for and his work on the interior helped the Grizzlies win the points in the paint battle 50 to 38.
Marc Gasol had his second straight poor shooting game as well. Gasol missed 10 of his 14 shots from the field but like Randolph he was able to make up for it by getting to the free throw line 12 times, grabbing three offensive rebounds and blocking three shots. Gasol’s screen setting for Mike Conley was key in the second half as well and it seems like this is the part of his game that is so effective but doesn’t get noticed a lot. The Grizzlies run a ton of screen action but it’s rarely with Randolph. Whether or not the play is designed for Gasol to roll to the rim or not, he is constantly setting picks for Conley and he did a great job doing that in this game.
Memphis’ strong comeback was led by the three perimeter players that started the second half for them. Lionel Hollins made a switch at halftime at the shooting guard position, shifting Tony Allen to small forward and replacing Sam Young with O.J. Mayo. Young was not spacing the floor at all which is why the Thunder were able to send extra defenders to the paint to both Randolph and Gasol.
Mayo provided a great spark off the bench. Though he missed 12 of his 18 shots he was able to put in 18 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks and he hit a big three when the Grizzlies were making their run. This is the kind of game that I’ve been waiting on from Mayo for sometime now. When Rudy Gay went down I said this was Mayo’s last chance to prove himself as a scorer in this league. Mayo hit some big shots in the San Antonio series and had some momentum changing defensive plays but never had a big game like this one. The extra playing time certainly helped and hopefully this will lead to something more for Mayo.
Mike Conley finished this game with 18 points on eight-of-15 shooting, five rebounds, four assists and two steals. It was his second best game of the playoffs behind game two of this series if you ask me. Tony Allen brought fantastic defense, a momentum changing slam and some great hustle plays to fuel the Grizzlies on the break. And though Sam Young’s inability to keep the defense honest was the main reason why O.J. Mayo was able to have such a big game, he too had a big-time momentum slam that I think put the Grizzlies in position to pull off the comeback.
Here’s video of the slam:
The Memphis Grizzlies needed to protect their homecourt in this game in order to preserve the advantage they captured with their game one victory. Memphis is in a perfect position to take complete control of the series on Monday night in game four. The Thunder will be playing desperate but I think the pressure is on Memphis to prevent this series from turning into a best of three with two games on Oklahoma City’s home floor. The Thunder are a good team so it will be a tough task but if Memphis can continue to play defense like they did in the second half, especially against Durant, they should be in good shape.