The Oklahoma City Thunder had to feel like they choked in Game 2 as the Memphis Grizzlies prevailed in overtime and evened the series. Thursday’s Game 3 lured the Thunder to the "Grindhouse" in Memphis, and the result was equally heartbreaking with a spirited OKC comeback made in vain. The Grizz won in OT once again, 98-95, and claimed a 2-1 series lead.
The Grizz were on cruise control up by 17 in the fourth quarter, but they went scoreless for nearly seven minutes starting at the 7:44 mark. The Thunder reeled off a 17-0 run and tied the game as Memphis kicked the ball around and bricked jump shot after jump shot.
Kevin Durant scored 30, but he misfired on all eight three-point attempts. Russell Westbrook also had 30 along with 13 rebounds, and his four-point play with 27 seconds left forced overtime. Westbrook shot it 26 times, Durant 27.
The Grizzlies looked like a gang-tackling football team for much of the game and held OKC to 39 percent shooting. They flew to the ball and hounded on every possession. The Thunder were completely out of sorts and trailed 44-36 at the half, their lowest output in any first half all season.
The Thunder all but stopped moving the ball, except for plays drawn up during a timeout, and with the Grizz getting back quickly on defense, it also limited the fast-break scoring for most of the game. Though the turnover margin was only 16-15 in favor of the Grizz, they dominated in points off turnovers 22-9.
After a superb regular season, the Thunder have not displayed that same prowess against this very tough Memphis team. While head coach Scott Brooks and Co. try to solve the Grizz, here are grades for every player.
Player grades start at a C+ for a decent overall performance. That increases or decreases based on the quality of each player's contributions, with extra credit for huge stats or a clutch performance. (We'll put role players on the grading curve.) Instead of gold stars and frowny faces, here are grades for every player.
Key Grizzlies Grades
Zach Randolph, Power Forward
As Shaquille O'Neal described Randolph during TNT's halftime show, "first name '20' last name '10.'" Though Z-Bo struggled from the field and missed 15 of his 20 shots, he turned in yet another double-double on 16 and 10. He even dished six assists in an unexpected Joakim Noah impersonation.
Marc Gasol, Center
Last season's Defensive Player of the Year, Marc Gasol was decidedly timid after picking up a pair of fouls in the first six minutes. He also looked uneven and somewhat tentative on offense, especially in the first half. Then he practically disappeared on offense in the second half and did not attempt a shot for the final 18 minutes of regulation.
But results are what matter, and he had the soft touch in overtime with a nifty jump hook and a pull-up jumper at the foul line. Those baskets helped return momentum to Memphis after a comatose fourth quarter. Gasol ended with 14 points and eight boards.
Mike Conley, Point Guard
Conley showed good aggression on the offensive end and held Westbrook without an assist in OKC's ragged first half. Though he only handed out three assists, he orchestrated the offense well and led the way with 20 points. He also notched a couple of steals and played smothering defense during certain stretches.
He had a look at a layup that would have put Memphis up by two with only a few seconds left, but it came from high off the glass and spun out of the cylinder. However, midway through overtime, Conley turned in a game-changing sequence by nailing a three-pointer, then picking Durant's pocket and taking it the other way for two more. It put Memphis up by four and was part of an 8-0 run in OT.
Courtney Lee, Shooting Guard
Courtney Lee started the season on the Boston Celtics, and now he's starting for a "grit-and-grind" playoff team. How fortuitous! He finished with 10 points, though that was helped by some late free throws at the end of overtime.
Lee is a versatile option at the 2, but he is no match for Durant. The Grizz opted to throw plenty of Tony Allen at the four-time scoring champion, and the Thunder clearly worked to switch Durant onto Lee. However, Westbrook was the bigger threat for a while, and he drew the assignment of Allen, putting Lee on an island on several possessions.
Tayshaun Prince, Small Forward
It was 10 years ago that the Detroit Pistons won an NBA title armed with a lanky young man named Tayshaun Prince. Now he's 34, and he's still an intelligent, rangy defender.
Prince started and ground out just shy of 24 minutes, but Tony Allen drew big minutes off the bench. Prince tallied four points, two boards and an assist.
Rest of Bench
As Tony Allen said after Game 2, per NBA.com's Randy Renner: "Kevin Durant is one of the greatest to ever play the game. It ain't about me, it's about the Grizzlies and playin' grit-and-grind basketball. I gotta do my work early and just cause havoc but, hey, the guy still had 36 points."
Allen caused more havoc in Game 3, except he did it on both ends. He makes his money with defense and is a vital counter for Durant, but he also led the team with 10 first-half points. Though he is not a threat on the perimeter, Allen drove to the cup on several striking layups, including a reverse dunk along the baseline during the second half.
Bizarrely, Allen also fouled Westbrook on two separate three-pointers in the final six minutes of the game. He will need to explain himself to the coaches.
Beno Udrih had the shooting touch early and connected on five of his six shots for a dozen points. He dished a pair of dimes, but he also flubbed away three turnovers.
Kosta Koufos made a couple of sweet plays in the first quarter, including an authoritative swat on Caron Butler. It was a nice night for the backup big with six points, five boards, a steal and a block.
Mike Miller did not get a shot off in 11 first-half minutes. He chucked up three shots in the second half, though none of them went in. He missed out on the big night for the bench.
Key Thunder Grades
Kevin Durant, Small Forward
Kevin Durant just could not find the mark from long range. He missed all eight three-pointers but tallied 10-of-19 shooting inside the arc. KD also hauled down nine rebounds and tied for a team-high on three assists. Durant also blocked five shots, which had to have Serge Ibaka scratching his head.
It was a frustrating night for Durant who can likely feel yet another playoff series slipping away.
KD had canned what is likely to be the most ridiculous shot of the playoffs in Game 2. The four-point play came with OKC trailing by five in the final minute, and KD benefited from a Marc Gasol foul on his falling-down three-pointer after a scramble for a loose ball.
But OKC got doubled up in that OT, and momentum has officially swung to Memphis. It was deja vu all over again in Game 3.
Durant also rolled his ankle switching off a screen in the fourth quarter, and that will be nicely swollen tomorrow.
Russell Westbrook, Point Guard
The Thunder had only four assists in the first half, none of them by Russell Westbrook, though he did lead the team in rebounding.
Westbrook paced the team in the second half as Durant got bottled up. He hit a pair of enormous three-pointers in the final minute of regulation; both of them tied the game, and the second was a four-point play following a Tony Allen foul.
Westbrook scored 30 points and somehow grabbed a baker's dozen of rebounds, more than any other player. However, he also lost four turnovers and totaled only two assists in 39 minutes.
TNT cameras showed him on the bench early in fourth quarter with his knees wrapped up like a grizzled veteran. The 25-year-old has a lot of wear on those battered legs, and even a "healthy" Westbrook plus Durant may not be enough to grind out a series win against the Grizz.
Serge Ibaka, Power Forward
Ibaka flashed his quickness with a first-half blow-by on Randolph, leaving him rooted to the spot as if Z-Bo was waiting for a bus. But Ibaka never established himself as a threat on offense and merely relied on what opportunities came to him, scoring 12 points on 10 shots. He managed only four points after the half.
Ibaka also failed to block a shot, though he did swipe a pair of steals, and had another underwhelming game on the glass with five boards.
Thabo Sefolosha, Shooting Guard
Thabo Sefolosha got in some early foul trouble as well, and that not only opened up more scoring opportunities for Conley, it gave Memphis more room to run the offense and distribute.
He came up with seven points and two steals. He also posted a plus-12 rating, the highest of any player in the game.
Kendrick Perkins, Center
Kendrick Perkins was an unlikely hero in Game 2, albeit briefly. His buzzer-beating putback forced overtime. It was his only shot of the game.
Perkins actually had an excellent game, at least against his own standard. Perk put up seven points, nine boards, a block and a steal.
Rest of Bench
Reggie Jackson was perhaps the only player actually facilitating some ball movement on his team, but he was also eager to jack up shots and missed seven of his nine attempts. Jackson seems out of rhythm.
Caron Butler's level of coldness ranked somewhere between Ice Cube and the Coors Lights in the commercials with Ice Cube. He missed all five shots he tried.
Nick Collison is not as fun to watch as rookie Steven Adams, but he is much savvier. He doesn't do anything spectacular, but he's often in the right place at the right time, both on defense and when boxing out for rebounds. In 16 minutes, Collison made his only shot attempt, grabbed five boards and tacked on two assists.
Derek Fisher will tie Robert Horry for the most career playoff games when he takes the court for Game 4, as noted by TNT. In Game 3, he made a three-pointer and got a steal. That was about it.
OKC won the season series 3-1, but it does it little good now. The Grizzlies battled their way into the playoffs and steeled themselves down the stretch.
The Thunder will hit the video room and try to figure out how they could be so soundly beaten for most of the game and then compile a 17-0 run in crunch time. The Grizz know the task ahead of them, and if they can defend home court at the "Grindhouse" once again, they'll be just one win away from devastating the Thunder once again.
Game 4 is slated for Saturday at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. The series returns to OKC for Game 5 Tuesday.