As fans, we should have expected this.
After the Thunder and the Grizzlies played the best and most competitive game of these playoffs in Game 4, when the teams fought through three overtimes before the final outcome was decided, they needed less than two quarters of basketball to decide Game 5. OKC used a 15-2 run late in the second quarter to break things open, and Memphis simply couldn’t muster the energy to make a game of it, as the Thunder cruised to a blowout 99-72 win to take a commanding three games to two lead in the series.
The lack of energy is really the only explanation for the Grizzlies’ play: they have largely been the aggressor in every game they’ve played this postseason, but that multi-overtime loss seemed to weigh heavily on them on Wednesday.
Both teams started out tight (or just tired), on the way to just 34 combined points at the end of the first quarter. But as the Thunder started to find their way offensively, Memphis just couldn’t get much of anything going. As a team, the Grizzlies finished just 28 of 78 from the filed, and the Thunder poured it on in the fourth, with bench players like Daequan Cook going nuts for 13 points in the final frame, and visibly enjoying themselves while doing so.
The good news for Memphis is, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the team rebound for a similarly big win in Game 6. OKC wasn’t amazing defensively or anything in Game 5; the Grizzlies simply didn’t have it in this one. It might be oversimplifying things, but really, the lack of energy from Memphis from the opening tip really was the biggest factor in the Thunder’s victory.
“I still believe in my team and I still believe we’ll come back,” Memphis head coach Lionel Hollins said in his post-game press conference that was streamed live on NBA.com. “For us, it’s a one-game series.”
In reality, it’s probably a two-game series. Things are going to be crazy in Memphis on Friday, and just like the Grizzlies struggled to dig deep in Game 5, expect the Thunder to be just as overmatched emotionally on the road in Game 6. After all, both teams were drained Wednesday, but the Thunder absolutely had to have this game if they were to continue to entertain thoughts of advancing to the conference finals. Memphis knew they had the next one at home, and played like it for the better part of three quarters.
Now, the Grizzlies will need to expend all that energy they saved in Oklahoma City on this night to force a deciding Game 7. And if they can, we may see a battle even more epic than the triple-overtime clash we saw in Game 5.