First of all it was the San Antonio series, of which Memphis was the underdog. No matter how well they had been playing leading into the Playoffs, most thought they would be put away by the Spurs. Winning their first Playoff game in the process, Memphis eliminated the Spurs and made me very happy. Then came the Oklahoma City Thunder who most figured would wipe out the Cinderella Grizzlies in four to five games. After three contests the Grizz “amazingly” led the series 2-1 and I like most were excited to see how far this team could go. Now move forward to a Game six in Memphis and the Grizzlies were facing elimination and Oklahoma were 48 minutes away from a Laker-less Conference Final. This game was going to be huge for both teams.
The first half was all Oklahoma as they got out by over 10 for an extended period of time and would have had a 13 point lead at halftime but Shane Battier connected from deep to cut the deficit back to 10. During the halftime chat as he left the court, Russell Westbrook made a point of mentioning he was disappointed that his Thunder had given up that trey. “We don’t want to let them get any momentum”. I figured that was just another cliche halftime moment as the Grizzlies looked drained and lacking focus.
The third quarter was extremely entertaining with dunks, blocks, charges, and1’s and technicals. The Grizzlies won the quarter 28-14 and opened the fourth quarter leading 72-68.
The fourth got underway with only one starter (Marc Gasol) on court for the first three minutes. OKC Coach Scott Brooks blinked first and re-inserted Durant and Westbrook at the nine minute mark. Randolph makes a sweeping hook and reminds me how unique he is. He could be one of only two players in the League (the other being LeBron) that so perfectly combine brute strength and such a soft touch. As Jeff Van Gundy said in the call “every shot rolls in rather than out” when he goes to the basket. I never thought I’d say these complimentary things about Randolph when I think of his days in Portland and New York.
As the final six minutes approach, Randolph continues to dominate and Kevin Durant continues to throw up bricks. Westbrook is the only Oklahoma player displaying any sense of offensive urgency by the four minute mark and Kevin Durant still can’t get the ball in his preferred space.
OJ Mayo hits a three to put the Grizzlies up by nine with just over three minutes remaining and it seems almost comical that the ESPN graphic displayed is referring to the possibility of a Dallas vs. Oklahoma Game one in a couple of days.
It dawns on me at this point that Zach Randolph and Russell Westbrook, being two of the most opposite types of players imaginable both get to the basket with identical ease. Both possess a completely different skill-set and method of execution but have been simply unstoppable in this game. The difference in fortunes is clear though as the Grizzlies are built around Randolph and you cannot say the same about Westbrook.
The final couple of minutes involve more Durant misses, more Thunder fouls and more Memphis free throws as the crowd grows agitated by the drawn out finish. As the final buzzer sounds they finally get to celebrate as the Grizz win 95-83.
I find it interesting that the Memphis team barely acknowledges their adoring crowd on exit, seemingly knowing they will be back for a Game one against the Dallas Mavericks in less than a week. I’m certainly not suggesting the Thunder are done as anything can happen in a Game seven but I sense the Grizzlies aren’t meant to stop here. I’m starting to think they have been sent to keep us from the Miami Heat show.
Time will tell if those Grizzly Bears ruin Oklahoma’s picnic. Game seven, Monday morning at 5.30am Melbourne time.