Winners of 15 of their past 18 games heading into Wednesday night, the one thing lacking in their recent surge was a statement victory. The type of victory the Grizzlies hoped to find when they welcomed the 50-18 Oklahoma City Thunder to the FedEx Forum.
The night got off to a promising start as the Grizzlies enjoyed a six-point lead after 12 minutes of play. They largely silenced the Thunder's potent offensive attack, limiting the defending Western Conference champs to just 15 first-quarter points.
But the lead was anything but a comfortable one. The teams traded hoops in an even 23-23 second quarter before the Thunder climbed back into the contest by holding the Grizzlies to just 14 third-quarter points.
The lead exchanged hands several times in the fourth quarter, but a pair of Russell Westbrook free throws gave Oklahoma City a three-point edge with under 10 seconds left in regulation.
But Grizzlies sixth man Jerryd Bayless buried a three with 3.9 seconds left to force an extra session, the culmination of his one-man game-saving performance:
Jerryd Bayless just scored 7 points in 8 seconds. (Fouls, but still.)— Beckley Mason (@BeckleyMason) March 21, 2013
Marc Gasol's running hook shot gave the Grizzlies a three-point lead with just over 90 seconds left in overtime. But a floater from Kevin Durant and layup from Westbrook gave Oklahoma City a one-point lead with less than 14 seconds remaining.
Unfortunately, it also gave the Grizzlies the final possession and the chance to send their fans off on a high note.
Mike Conley found Zach Randolph on the low block, but the big man's floater sailed too far, clanging off the iron. Thunder center Kendrick Perkins had vacated his position to challenge Randolph's attempt, which left just the 235-pound Durant standing between the 265-pound Gasol and the basket.
Gasol closed the distance to the bucket, then tapped the ball in with just 0.8 seconds left on the clock. When Westbrook's desperation sailed past the bucket, the Grizzlies finally had that statement win as an exclamation point to their strong showing.
Gasol's tip-in also earned him some well-deserved love from the Twitter world:
marc gasol is every kind of awesome.— Holly MacKenzie (@stackmack) March 21, 2013
More importantly, it pushed the Grizzlies (46-21) to within three games of the second-seed Thunder (50-19).
If the Nuggets are truly the team no one wants to face in the postseason, then the Grizzlies are the team people are too scared of to even mention.