Although there are those who are going to try and make the Memphis Grizzlies beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 100-99, taking a 3-2 lead in their playoff series, about Joey Crawford and referee decisions, from what we’ve been seeing from this postseason battle is that the better team probably one.
Everything comes down to the final seconds of this game. The Grizzlies took a 100-98 lead with 1:02 left in the game (overtime, again) thanks to Mike Conley driving to the basket. Kevin Durant reached the free throw line with 27.5 seconds left in the game. He makes the first shot (was only 2-for-4 before that trip) and just before we was about to take his second shot, Joey Crawford whistles with his usual flair for a dramatic and snatches the ball away from Durant, obviously disrupting his rhythm. Why did he do it? To make the guys at the table fix the team fouls situation.
Durant, disrupted or not, should have made that shot. An MVP, an 87.3% shooter from the line during the regular season (but only 71.8% in the playoffs) needs to make that shot. Durant missed. Fast forward to 2.4 second on the clock. Durant misses an impossible turnaround three from too far away, and Serge Ibaka didn’t get off the tip in shot on time. Just like Zach Randolph was denied a game winning basket at the end of regulation on a too close to call decision, the same happened for Ibaka. Crawford might love to have the spotlight on him, but he didn’t win the game for the Grizzlies.
So what did? We’ll begin with defense. Kevin Durant shot 10-of-24 from the field to score 26 points. He turned the ball over six times, as shooting 42.9% on jump shots for him was actually a vast improvement compared to the rest of the series. He is shooting 40% from the field (compared to 50.3% during the regular season), and simply can’t make us all shake the feeling that he hasn’t been stepping up to the challenge in the postseason.
There’s also the Russell Westbrook factor. Westbrook might be the biggest enigma in the NBA. He finished with 30 points, but needed 31 shots to reach them, hitting only 10-of-31. He is hitting 34.4% from the field during the postseason, and disappears completely in overtime. Disappears? Maybe the Thunder wishes he would. He keeps taking bad, hurried shots, resulting in 0-of-14 through the four overtimes so far, scoring only one point. This isn’t just defense: This is a reckless player refusing to learn, while his head coach refuses or simply can’t control him. Westbrook also sent the game into overtime with a clutch steal on Conley to make it 90-90 in the final seconds.
But it isn’t just about the Thunder. The Grizzlies are dominating the paint, as Zach Randolph finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds on 8-of-15 from the field. Marc Gasol scored only 11 points, but had 15 rebounds, including five on offense. The Grizzlies scored 42 points in the paint compared to only 30 by the Thunder. Transition also had something to do with, be surprised or not, as the Grizzlies won that “battle” 15-7 thanks to a great day from beyond the arc.
Conley had a great game with 17 points, but their real stud was Mike Miller scoring 21 points, including hitting five times from beyond the arc. Miller has had big moments against the Thunder in the past, especially the 2012 NBA finals. This was no different, and it all begins with the Thunder losing the battle in the paint, which leads to defensive breakdowns, and what might lead to this series being another first round upset.