Oklahoma City is simply more entertaining, more aesthetically pleasing to watch than Memphis. Thunder players can do the spectacular.
Like Kevin Durant hitting a ridiculous clutch four-point play late in regulation.
There were huge dunks by Russell Westbrook, high-flying blocks by Serge Ibaka and even a putback by Kendrick Perkins to send the game to overtime.
Through it all Memphis kept grinding. And executing — all night long Memphis was making the extra pass to the man left open on the weakside, all night long they got good looks because of it.
The offensive execution, the controlling of the tempo and strong defense earned Memphis a dramatic 111-105 road win in Game 2 of their playoff series.
This series is tied 1-1 and headed back to Memphis.
Mike Conley has been a favorite of the hard core basketball set for a couple years now and showed why on a national stage Monday — he controlled the tempo which limited the Thunder’s fast break attempts, he got in the lane and broke down the Thunder defense, and when needed he hit buckets. Conley finished with 19 points and 12 assists, plus did a good job defending Russell Westbrook.
Zach Randolph added 25 points, a number of those key buckets late when his man went to help on Conley or another Griz player in the lane. Courtney Lee and Marc Gasol each had 16. Beno Udrih came in to spell Conley and was brilliant on his way to 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting.
OKC lacked that kind of balance. Durant had 36, Westbrook 29 and Ibaka 15 (Ibaka had the best overall game of any OKC player), and that’s it for Thunder players in double figures. As a team OKC shot 39.8 percent on the night and was 9-of-30 from three.
Memphis shot 49.4 percent and had an offensive rating of 117 on the night because of how they moved the ball. They were methodical, looking for the extra pass and the open look — much of the night the Thunder tried to overload the pick-and-roll to frustrate Conley but Memphis moved the ball to the weak side quickly and made OKC pay the price.
That’s what won the game. That’s not what anybody will talk about, rather they will discuss the wild ending.
There were moments late in regulation where Memphis tried to isolate Randolph on Perkins, and it worked once when Perkins got trapped under basket but made pass out to Gasol for bucket. However on the next one Perkins got a block that became a Westbrook steal then a Durant dunk that put the Thunder up one. If felt like they would run away with it.
But the Grizzlies kept grinding. Soon after Mike Miller hit a three off a kick out on an offensive rebound and with that the Grizzlies were up 95-93. Soon after Tony Allen was hustling over the top of a pick to block a Kevin Durant three, the Grizzlies, and after a couple Conley free throws it was a five point Grizzlies lead. They were in control.
Then Kevin Durant and his four-point play happened.
It was still a one point Memphis lead but when Conley missed a free throw it opened the door for OKC to tie or win at the end of regulation. Kendrick Perkins was put in and we all shook our heads — why sub in a guy that the Grizzlies don’t have to guard? And when Westbrook missed a three, it was Perkins under the basket with the outback to send the game to OT.
A lot of teams would have folded after giving it up late like that. Not Memphis, it just grinds on. The Grizzlies scored the first six points of overtime.
There was plenty more drama to come — Durant got away with a charge, Gasol got away with a kicked ball, and then Gasol fouled out on a ticky-tack call for that late in the game (Durant was off balance and fell).
But then Memphis just kept grinding like they did all night — Conley drove and drew the defense, Tony Allen made a brilliant cut and as he went up to shoot the help came after him, he dumped to the weak side to Randolph and it was a layup.
Ibaka traveled on the next Thunder possession and that was all she wrote.
This series was never going to be easy for OKC, and don’t be surprised if there is a Game 7 down the line. Memphis can grind like this every time out.