Grizzlies advance to Conference finals for first time in team history after Game 5 win over Thunder

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The Memphis Grizzlies have punched a ticket to the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history, thanks to closing out the Thunder 88-84 with a Game 5 victory in Oklahoma City.

The Thunder were going to need a superstar performance out of Kevin Durant in order to extend this series, and just as has been the case over the past few games, it simply didn’t come to pass.

Durant started this elimination game by missing his first seven shots, perhaps due to the fact that he was trying to do too much in the early part of things to keep his team within reach. He finished shooting just 5-of-21 from the field, with 21 points, eight rebounds, six assists, and seven turnovers.

With Durant unable to carry his undermanned team, the Grizzlies were able to lead by double digits for most of the game. They got a huge performance out of Zach Randolph, who contributed 28 points and 14 rebounds, and everyone else did just enough for Memphis to come out on top.

Oklahoma City made a late run to make a game of it, and legitimately had a chance to steal this one in the final minutes to extend the series.

After the Grizzlies had re-established a double digit lead with under three minutes to play, the Thunder went on a furious run to get back into it, and cut the lead to just two on a three-pointer from Reggie Jackson with 14 seconds remaining. An intentional foul by the Thunder sent Randolph to the free throw line, but he missed both of his attempts, giving the Thunder one final chance.

Somewhat miraculously, Durant was able to free himself from Tony Allen, and received the ball with a wide-open look from not much more than 15 feet out. Durant makes that shot in his sleep, yet couldn’t get it to go on this night, and the Grizzlies sealed the game at the free throw line following the rebound of the missed shot.

Once Russell Westbrook was lost for the remainder of the postseason due to injury, few expected the Thunder to advance beyond the second round. The fact that they were able to stay close with the Grizzlies until the final moments of every game in this series is a testament to their collective will, as well as to Durant’s ability to singlehandedly be great for extended stretches.

The Grizzlies were by no means dominant in this series, and those who are penciling them into an NBA Finals matchup with the Heat should be cautious in remembering just how efficient the Spurs can be on both ends of the floor before sliding Memphis past them into the championship round.

But regardless of how much you may choose to overvalue this Memphis team, this is a massive accomplishment for the Grizzlies, especially given how inconsistent they were during the regular season. The confidence they’ve gained to this point in the playoffs will serve them well in the Conference finals, though they’ll have to be much more efficient offensively to take down the likes of the Spurs in a seven game series in the next round.

Watch Michael Jordan’s best highlight from each of his playoff runs (video)

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I’ve become a sucker for this highlight format.

Jazz deny rumored promise to draft D.J. Wilson

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Michigan forward D.J. Wilson said he’d stay in the draft only if he’d go in the first round. Yet, despite not doing any on-court work at the combine, the borderline first-rounder remained in the draft beyond the withdrawal deadline.

What gives?

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

Kyle Goon of The Salt Lake Tribune:

NBA teams sometimes promise to draft a player. They never reveal that before the draft. So, Utah’s denial doesn’t mean much – even if it’s true.

The Jazz were the last team to give Wilson a full work out before he injured himself in a Spurs workout. So, this rumor could be based on circumstantial evidence rather than leak of a Utah guarantee.

Wilson would make sense for the Jazz, who could see their payroll bloat if they re-sign Gordon Hayward and George Hill (and maybe even Joe Ingles). They could move Derrick Favors, an interior who doesn’t exactly fit with Rudy Gobert. Wilson would give Utah another option with Trey Lyles as developing stretch fours behind Boris Diaw. (Utah could even move Diaw and count on Lyles/Wilson to emerge sooner than later.)

Watch LeBron James’ top highlight from each of his postseason appearances (video)

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LeBron James and Tony Parker are the only players to play in the last dozen postseasons.

(If you’re wondering, Manu Ginobili missed the 2009 playoffs due to an ankle injury.)

It’s fair to say LeBron was a bit more spectacular than Parker in that span. As LeBron enters his seventh straight Finals, the NBA released this awesome video showing LeBron’s best playoff highlight from each year:

There’s no entry for this year. Here’s betting it comes against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

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NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.