It came down to defense, and there doesn’t seem to be any team that does it better at the moment than the Memphis Grizzlies, with Marc Gasol closing any lanes on their way to the rim, while Tony Allen simply did a perfect job on Kevin Durant during the fourth quarter and overtime, putting the Griz only one win away from reaching the conference final for the first time in franchise history.
It came down to stopping Durant in the final moments. After going 8-14 from the field during the first three quarters, Durant saw much more of Tony Allen in the closing moments of the game, leading to him missing his final five shots of the game (all in overtime) and turning the ball over twice during the fourth quarter with the game on the line.
The Thunder had the game in their hand during the early parts of it, taking a 46-29 lead in the second quarter after Reggie Jackson blocked Zach Randolph, but things went quite awry from there, all in the direction of the better team all throughout the series. Marc Gasol, somehow winning the DPOY award but not included in the all-defensive first team, finished with 6 blocks, four of them in the second half, and three of them on Serge Ibaka, who looked the best he has in the postseason, and it still wasn’t enough.
Gasol was also huge offensively, scoring 23 points and adding 11 rebounds. The Grizzlies went on to outscore the Thunder 74-51 since the Thunder’s biggest lead, eventually winning in overtime 103-97 to take the 3-1 lead, as Mike Conley (24 points) and Zach Randolph (23 points) enjoyed big nights offensively.
We are a team that just plays hard and doesn’t quit. We scratch. We claw. They said grit and grind. I don’t know what the heck that means, but we go out and we just battle. We compete. We’re not the most talented team that’s in the playoffs when we started out. We’re not the most talented team that’s left in the playoffs. But we go and compete.
This was sweet revenge for the Grizzlies, all fearing, just a little bit, a repeat of the 2011 events. After taking a 2-1 lead in the semifinal series against the Thunder, they dropped a 22 point lead in a triple overtime game to give the Thunder control of the series and eventually the ticket to the conference final. A lot of players are still on the team, and they knew this time it wasn’t going to happen.
The Grizzlies went to work on what they’re good at. They caused turnovers (forcing the Thunder to 15, compared with their 7), and to the postup. They were the number one post up team in the NBA in these playoffs, and almost 20% of their offense in the Game 4 win came through post up plays for Randolph and Gasol, scoring 1.1 points per possession on such plays. The rest was Mike Conley showing just how good he is right now, scoring most of their spot up points, making up 25% of their offense, including a huge floater with 2 minutes left in the fourth to give the Grizzlies a 92-91 lead.
Memphis are simply playing the right way, while the Thunder keep improvising, and waiting for Kevin Durant to come up with something. Excellent defense, and exhaustion, made it so the most talented player on the court, once again, didn’t have left in the tank for the closing moments.