MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Mario Chalmers‘ transformation from one of the most despised figures in Memphis basketball history to fan favorite has taken all of three games.
His season-best scoring performance Monday night completed the transition.
Chalmers scored 16 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter as the Memphis Grizzlies held on for a 122-114 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
As Chalmers got going in the final quarter, Memphis fans were on their feet cheering the guard acquired last week in a trade with the Miami Heat. One fan hollered: “I never thought I would cheer for Mario Chalmers.”
Before the trade, Chalmers was known in Memphis as the guy whose 3-pointer sent the 2008 national championship game against the Memphis Tigers into overtime – a game eventually won by Chalmers’ Kansas Jayhawks.
On Monday, he converted 6 of 13 shots, including 4 of 7 from outside the arc, as five Grizzlies reached double figures. Mike Conley had 22, Jeff Green scored 20, while Marc Gasol added 17. Zach Randolph finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Russell Westbrook led the Thunder with 40 points, 12 in the fourth quarter trying to bring Oklahoma City back from an 11-point deficit. Serge Ibaka had 18 and Enes Kanter scored 16. Steven Adams and Dion Waiters finished with 14 apiece.
Oklahoma City shot 51 percent, including 10 of 24 from outside the arc. But Memphis converted 12 of 17 3-pointers, much out of character for the Grizzlies, who entered the game ranked near the bottom in 3-point shooting at 29 percent.
“I’ve always been a big believer that when the three-point shot goes up, it’s dangerous,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, adding: “To their credit, they made them.”
Westbrook tried to bring the Thunder back in the fourth, fueling a 10-2 rally that pulled Oklahoma City within 108-105 with 1:26 left.
But 3-pointers by Conley and JaMychal Green put the game away for Memphis, which won its third straight.
“They made some big shots at the end of the game,” Westbrook said. “.They just made the last run and won the game.”
Chalmers said the reaction of the Memphis fans despite his role in the national championship game has been refreshing.
“It actually gave me more motivation,” Chalmers said of the cheers. “Just to come out and prove to the fans that I want to be here. I belong here.
“And hopefully they’ll forget about 2008,” he said with a laugh.