It was by no means a beautiful effort from the Grizzlies in Game 3 against the Thunder, but they’ll take the effectiveness of it over the aesthetics.
Memphis held Oklahoma City to 36.4 percent shooting, and survived a late run thanks to some key missteps by the Thunder down the stretch. As a result, the Grizzlies now lead the best of seven series two games to one after coming away with an 87-81 home victory on Saturday.
Game 4 is Monday night in Memphis.
We said prior to this one that for the Thunder to continue to have a chance in this series, that Kevin Durant would need to do most of the heavy lifting, just as he’d done through its first two games. While he was spectacular in stretches, especially in the second quarter when he scored seven straight points to bring his team back within striking distance after Memphis had gotten out to a double digit lead, overall the Grizzlies were able to slow him down.
Durant finished with 25 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, while playing almost 46 of the game’s 48 minutes. He started the game 6-of-8 from the field, but finished it shooting just 9-of-19. Part of that was due to Tony Allen’s on-ball defense, and part of it may have been due to fatigue, although the latter was downplayed by head coach Scott Brooks afterward.
With Durant not quite as spectacular offensively, OKC was going to need some other guys to step up and deliver, and they simply didn’t get the needed contributions. Kevin Martin struggled for the second straight game, chipping in 13 points off the bench but on 6-of-17 shooting. Serge Ibaka’s struggles were mighty early, as he missed two open dunks and a couple of bunnies near the basket. He finished with the same shooting line as Martin exactly, but added 10 rebounds.
The Thunder cleaned up some things on the defensive end, and that effort is what kept them in the game despite the dismal shooting. They held Zach Randolph to just eight points, and kept Mike Conley in check after his stellar Game 2 performance. They found themselves tied at 81 with just under two minutes remaining, but didn’t score the rest of the way thanks to some costly crunch time mistakes.
Reggie Jackson played an excellent game overall for the Thunder, but made consecutive errors that keyed the Grizzlies’ end-of-game surge. He was called for a charge on a fast break where he ran over Mike Conley, and then, after a couple of free throws from Marc Gasol put the Grizzlies back up two and Durant missed on the ensuing possession, Jackson committed a silly foul in the backcourt at a time when all his team needed was a defensive stop.
There were still 50 seconds remaining in the game at the time of the foul, which would have been plenty of time for OKC to defend. Instead, the two free throws from Conley extended it to a two-possession game.
Gasol was called for a very questionable block on Durant on the next trip down, but in perhaps the ultimate case of “ball don’t lie,” Durant — a 90.5 percent free throw shooter on the season — missed both of his attempts.
Just like the first two games of the series, the team that lost this one can point to plenty of things that went their way that will be signs of encouragement for the following contest. But it just doesn’t feel like the Thunder have enough from a personnel standpoint to win three of the next four to take the series.