2011 NBA Playoff Preview – Semifinals Game 3 Recap
Western Conference Semifinal Game 4 - Oklahoma City 133, Memphis 123 (3OT) - Series tied, 2-2
Oklahoma City could have imploded, and for one and a half quarters, it looked as though the young team poised to lead the NBA over the next decade was going to do exactly that. Yet, the emotionally fragile squad from the South Central Plains was able to pull itself up by its bootstraps and claim the kind of conquest that transforms a playoff journey. Roughly 53 hours after squabbling and bickering defined a fourth-quarter collapse in Game 3 of this Western Conference semifinal, the Thunder chose to fight their opponent, and not their own selves.
Good move, Thunder. Good move.
It took seven grueling periods of basketball, but when it was over the Oklahoma City Thunder had regained home-court advantage and tied their second-round playoff series with the Memphis Grizzlies. It wasn’t quite an instant classic that unfolded on Monday night at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, but it was an epic battle in which two evenly-matched teams refused to back down from each other.
The Grizzlies raced out to an 18-point lead in the second quarter after O.J. Mayo’s jumper put Memphis up 37-19. The eighth seed looked well on its way to taking a 3-1 series lead and putting Oklahoma City in a deep, dark ditch. The Thunder chipped away, however, and began to take over the game as the second half unfolded. On Saturday in Game 3, the fourth quarter was Oklahoma City’s Waterloo, but in this game, most of the fourth quarter witnessed the fourth-seeded Thunder at their best. A Russell Westbrook jumper with 4:56 to go in the contest gave the Thunder a 92-82 lead. Thanks to terrific defense by Nick Collison on Memphis star Zach Randolph, the visitors bottled up the Grizzlies and showed all the fight they manifestly lacked in Game 3.
Yet, Oklahoma City – for all its virtues – has still become a team that’s painfully unable to close down opponents in the final minutes. Meanwhile, just as they have all postseason, the Grizzlies affirmed their burgeoning reputation as a team that won’t go away quietly. Memphis crashed the glass and tightened up its defense in the final few minutes, eventually tying the game on a desperation three-pointer from Mike Conley – a 28-foot prayer - with just three seconds to go. Westbrook’s jumper as time expired was unsuccessful and the teams went to overtime.
Memphis overcame a seven-point deficit in the first overtime, tying the contest on yet another miraculous three-pointer with under 10 seconds to go. This time it was reserve Greivis Vasquez who rose to the challenge. Kevin Durant’s three-pointer was no good at time expired and the two battle-weary (and foul-plagued) sides prepared for double overtime.
The Grizzles owned a 119-117 lead with 30 seconds remaining in double overtime before Westbrook’s jumper tied the contest. Both teams got a look at the basket in the final seconds of the second bonus canto, but neither Randolph nor Westbrook tickled the twine, and the crowd in Memphis, growing drained, faced the prospect of a third overtime with its Grizzlies missing both Conley and O.J. Mayo due to six fouls. Mayo gave his sixth foul late in the first overtime when Memphis coach Lionel Hollins kept him on the floor in the final 20 seconds, despite the fact that he could have subbed in a bench player to commit a foul instead.
In the third overtime, the lack of Mayo on the floor hurt the Grizzlies, who lacked a formidable three-point shooter who could spread the floor and make it easier for Memphis’s post players to operate one-on-one.
The third time was indeed the charm for the Thunder, who rode the back of Durant’s six points to a 14-4 triple overtime score against a Memphis team that, as Hollins said, “ran out of bullets” when the last five of this game’s 63 minutes were played.
Russell Westbrook had 40 points on the evening. Kevin Durant finished with 35. In what has become a storyline for the Thunder during the postseason, Durant went long periods of time on Monday night without a shot attempt. Westbrook’s domination of the ball (he shot 13 more times than Durant) continues to be a problem down the stretch for the Thunder, but Collison’s defense on Randolph was so good that Oklahoma City was able to survive.
Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph logged 57 and 56 minutes respectively, which means they’ll need a lot of rest in Wednesday’s Game 5. Randolph scored 34 points and grabbed 16 rebounds but looked gassed down the stretch. Gasol had 26 points and 21 rebounds. Memphis shot just 36 percent and blew a huge opportunity to put a boot on the Thunder’s throat.
It’s a blown opportunity the Grizzlies are likely to regret. Three overtimes, and all they got was a somber plane flight to Oklahoma City. For the Thunder, however, all the trust issues that were raging after Game 3 are – while not eliminated – certainly less worrisome. Gritty step-up performances and a gut-check win on the road will do that for an NBA team that’s learning how to carry itself like a champion.
By: Matt Zemek
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