The Memphis Grizzlies are known for their toughness, a quality that's given birth to a franchise motto (Grit and Grind) and the sort of ever-present identity that makes them a fearsome opponent in any circumstance. In Monday night Game 2 of their first-round series against the No. 2-seed Oklahoma City Thunder, that resilience helped them withstand what could have gone down as a legendary comeback.
Let's start with the Thunder's massive plays late in regulation, because they spoke to the overall quality of this game and the general desperation of playoff basketball. With 18 seconds remaining in regulation and Memphis up 98-93 after having bounced back from a lead-stealing dunk from OKC star Kevin Durant, the game appeared to be near its end. The Grizzlies had controlled tempo for the vast majority, imposed their style at both ends and appeared heading to a series-tying victory.
Unfortunately for them, the Thunder had other ideas. Durant, the NBA's presumptive MVP this season, came through with one of the most dramatic shots of his career. Take a look below:
Durant's absurd four-point play gave the Thunder renewed hope, but they still needed a few breaks to get the game to overtime. On Memphis's next possession, point guard Mike Conley, who shot 81.5 percent from the line this season, split a pair to make the score 99-97 with 12 seconds on the clock. OKC had one possession to win or send the game to overtime, and the ball ended up in the hands of Russell Westbrook for an off-balance three-pointer. He missed, but an unlikely hero forced overtime:
Kendrick Perkins has been much-maligned throughout this season for statistical contributions that don't match up with his reputation, but he does have a meaningful role in this series as he attempts to match up with Grizzlies big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Nevertheless, no one expected Perk to serve as the Thunder's savior in this moment — this was his only shot attempt of the game. The combination of Durant's crazy shot and Perkins's improbable moment made it seem as if the Thunder had fate and momentum on their side.
Yet the Grizzlies have always been a team to focus on apparent realities, not mysterious concepts. Instead of falling into despair at their misfortune at the end of regulation, they went about playing the same kind of game that served them so well for the majority of Game 2. After playing the Thunder to a standstill for 4:30 of the five-minute extra period, the Grizzlies' execution won out. The pivotal play occurred with 26 seconds on the clock and the score tied at 105-105. As several Thunder defenders cut off Tony Allen near the basket, the Grizzlies wing found Randolph for a simple lay-up.
Serge Ibaka was called for a traveling violation on the next possession, a poorly executed pick-and-roll and the Thunder failed to score the rest of the way. With Courtney Lee and Zach Randolph knocking down two free throws apiece after necessary fouls (one of which came on a very poor inbounds pass into the backcourt that was nearly stolen by Westbrook), the Grizzlies came away with a hard-fought 111-105 win and a 1-1 series tie with the next two games on their home floor, where they won 14 games in a row to close out the regular season.
The Thunder don't need to be ashamed of their performance, because a few different bounces would have given them a memorable win with one play — Durant's shot — that figures to be a signature moment of this postseason regardless of the game's result. Nevertheless, the Grizzlies were the superior team in Game 2. While Durant will get deserved attention for the four-point play and finished with 36 points, Memphis made him uncomfortable and forced a decidedly inefficient 12-of-28 shooting performance. Westbrook helped pick up the slack in the first half, but he finished with an 11-of-28 shooting line and made several out-of-control mistakes in key moments. As a team, OKC shot 39.8 percent from the field, so it's safe to say the Memphis game plan worked.
The Grizzlies are likely still slight underdogs in this series, but the next few games are officially unpredictable. Thursday night's Game 3 looks like appointment viewing.
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