The Memphis Grizzlies escaped another furious rally by the Oklahoma City Thunder Thursday night, winning 98-95 in overtime and taking a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven-series. This is the second straight overtime win for the Grizzlies, who won game two on Monday in Oklahoma City 111-105.
Game three was almost a mirror of game two, as the Grizzlies steadily built their lead throughout the first half, taking an eight-point lead into the break. The size of the lead, though, was hardly as important as the score. The defensive, deliberate Memphis team was playing their game, holding the high-scoring Thunder, who average over 106 points per game, to a meager 36 points in two quarters of play.
The third quarter was much the same story, as the Grizzlies built their lead to as many as 17 points before the Thunder chipped away to trim the lead to 71-61 heading into the fourth. The Thunder finally caught Memphis, but it was not until Russell Westbrook hit a 3-pointer with less than a minute in regulation to knot the score at 81. The teams would end regulation play tied 85-85.
As much as the Memphis Grizzlies like to get the ball down low to bigs Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, it was their point guard who made the difference in the overtime period. Mike Conley scored five of his 20 points in the extra minutes, hitting a 3-pointer and a lay-up in a 30-second span. That would give his team a lead they would not relinquish, on their way to the 98-95 win.
The recipe for success for Thursday’s win for the Grizzlies over the Thunder was the same as it was on Monday. Memphis played their usual hard-nosed defensive game, took time off of the shot clock on offense, and held Oklahoma City well-below their season average in points. “Early on we controlled the tempo by our aggression defensively” said Conley, “we made them into a half-court team and when we do that, the game is more our pace.”
What Memphis also did was hold the Thunder sharp-shooters to 17 percent from three-point range. Westbrook was 4-for-13 and Kevin Durant was 0-8. Was it good defense by the Grizzlies, or simply a cold night by the Thunder shooters? “That’s a credit to the guys who were guarding them, and a credit to our bigs who were up in the pick-and-rolls giving them support.” Says Memphis coach David Joerger, who added a word of caution, “Durant is just as capable of going 7-for-8 as he is 0-8.” Joerger said the same goes for Westbrook.
Thursday night’s game was similar to Monday’s game in another respect: bench scoring. The Grizzlies’ bench had a 34-9 advantage on the night thanks to Tony Allen, who had 16 and Beno Udrih who chipped in 12.
It was no surprise that Durant and Westbrook led all scorers on the night with 30 each, despite their poor shooting percentages. Conley had 20 for Memphis and Zach Randolph had 16 points and 10 rebounds. After their 98-95 overtime win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Memphis Grizzlies lead the series 2-1 with game four coming up in Memphis on Saturday.
Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky