For the second game in a row, the Oklahoma City Thunder used an impressive comeback to send the game into overtime against the Memphis Grizzlies. But once again, the Grizzlies still came out victorious.
Memphis blew a 17-point fourth-quarter comeback before pulling out a 98-95 overtime win over the Thunder at home. This gives the underdogs a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series.
The Grizzlies controlled the action for the first 40 minutes of game time with great defense that stifled Oklahoma City. However, they still needed overtime to continue an intriguing trend:
4 of Memphis' past 6 playoff games have gone to OT.— J.A. Adande (@jadande) April 25, 2014
Still, a great showing by Mike Conley allowed the home team to pull out the win. The point guard led the way with 20 points, earning praise from many, including Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer:
Mike Conley doesn't get credit he's due. Nothing spectacular, but cerebral.— Rick Bonnell (@rick_bonnell) April 25, 2014
Zach Randolph overcame a poor shooting performance to post 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in the win.
Meanwhile, the Thunder had a poor shooting display that started with their stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Durant finished with 30 points but went 10-of-27 from the floor, including 0-of-8 from behind the arc.
Westbrook was not much more efficient with 9-of-26 shooting, but at least had 30 points and 13 rebounds. Unfortunately, no one else on the roster was able to provide much from an offensive perspective. A 13-16 assist-to-turnover ratio certainly did not help their cause.
Who will win the series?
No matter what happens in the next few games, it is clear that this is going to be an exciting series.
The Grizzlies came into the game riding a 14-game home winning streak that allowed the squad to reach the playoffs and earn the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference. However, it wouldn't mean anything if they couldn't win in the playoffs.
Forward Mike Miller knew the importance of the start in saying, "Our team is a team that can't play too far from behind because we play a certain style of basketball, and it's tough. Our starts are big for us. They do have some pressure. They have some expectations," via Teresa M. Walker of The Associated Press (h/t Charlotte Observer).
Memphis followed this game plan and got off to a great start at home, going up 24-18 after the first quarter. ESPN Stats and Info noted the Thunder's inability to make outside shots as a problem at this stage:
The Thunder have yet to make a shot outside the paint as OKC trails the Grizzlies by 6 after the first quarter. pic.twitter.com/Ppxd5uw7sN— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 25, 2014
The Grizzlies were then able to expand the lead in the fourth quarter thanks to the play of Tony Allen and Beno Udrih off the bench. The two guards had a combined 18 points at halftime and seemed to be able to score from all over the court.
Dan Wolken of USA Today joked about Udrih's performance after not playing for much of the year:
The Thunder are getting murdered by a guy the Griz had in mothballs all season. Not a good look.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) April 25, 2014
The combination of Allen and Udrih finished with 28 points in the victory.
By halftime, the Thunder were down 44-36 in one of their worst offensive showings of the season. Brian Phillips of Grantland and ESPN's Brian Windhorst agreed that the game plan was the problem:
Okay. Fingers crossed Scott Brooks chose halftime to unveil the Thunder's emergency fourth set play.— Brian Phillips (@runofplay) April 25, 2014
Grizzlies know all of OKC's plays. When the 1st option is taken away the Thunder often just shut down their offense.— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) April 25, 2014
Then again, the struggles fell more on the supporting cast rather than the stars, as noted by Kurt Helin of Pro Basketball Talk:
Durant/Westbrook/Ibaka score 29 points on 45.8% shooting. Rest of Thunder 7 points on 21.4%.— Kurt Helin (@basketballtalk) April 25, 2014
The third quarter did not go any better for Oklahoma City, as there was not a lot of passing. Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman explains why this was a problem as the Memphis lead expanded to 17:
No ball movement whatsoever. Saw it out of that timeout. Thunder got a good shot. Haven't seen it since. Grizzlies 71, Thunder 54.— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) April 25, 2014
There were finally signs of life for the Thunder as they were able to cut the lead to 10 heading into the fourth quarter, but the Grizzlies kept making it tough with shots like this:
Of course, Memphis was not going to get away with an easy win. After going up 17 points with under eight minutes left, the Thunder started scoring and playing defense:
OKC will not give up! Thunder are on a 14-0 run, trail Grizzlies by 3 with 2 minutes left. Kevin Durant has 23 points.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 25, 2014
Oklahoma City eventually tied things up at 81-81 on a Westbrook three-pointer, and then evened the score again at 85-85 on a four-point play by the All-Star with 26 seconds left. This shot ended up being the last points in regulation as the two teams went into overtime:
In the extra period, the Thunder kept their momentum going and took an early three-point lead. However, the home squad came back and quickly moved ahead, as noted by Walker:
#Grizzlies have scored 7 straight to take back lead at 92-88 with 2:49 left. Or more than they scored in the final 7:43 of regulation.— Teresa Walker (@TeresaMWalker) April 25, 2014
After a few missed shots by Oklahoma City, Memphis simply needed to hit free throws to secure the win. Westbrook once again made things interesting after being fouled with less than a second remaining, but it was too little too late for the Thunder, as the Grizzlies were able to hold on at home.
The teams now have a short break before coming back to play Game 4 on Saturday, April 26. The matchup is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. ET at the FedEx Forum. After falling behind 2-1 in the series, this becomes a must-win game for Oklahoma City.
For the Thunder to even up the series, they have to play a lot like they did in the fourth quarter with better ball movement which leads to better shots. If they are able to do that, they will be able to get that elusive road win and will once again be a dangerous unit capable of going all the way to the NBA championship.
As for the Grizzlies, they simply have to find an easier way to close out games and avoid giving their fans heart attacks.