This concludes 3 Shades of Blue’s review of the 2010-11 season from summer activity to the playoffs. Part 1 focused on the off-season activity of the team.Part 2 dealt with the first part of the season. Part 3 covered the rest of the regular season.Part 4 followed the team through the First Round of the playoffs.Today we focus on what turned out to be the end of the season for the Grizzlies in their Conference semi-final matchup against Oklahoma City.
Conference Semi-Finals: The Battle of the Future
According to most pundits the Grizzlies were not expected to be in this position this year. Memphis wasn’t even expected to be in the playoffs by most experts before the start of the season. It wasn’t until John Hollinger mentioned Memphis as a legitimate playoff contender in January that people started to take notice. After a brutal 6 game battle with San Antonio it would be understandable for the Grizzlies to be content with what they had achieved in the season and roll over against the favored Oklahoma City Thunder.
But that wasn’t the way the Grizzlies played this season. The team that had never won a playoff game previously used the motto ‘All Heart, Grit and Grind’ to motivate themselves into the playoffs and then past the San Antonio Spurs. That same attitude drove the team into the semi-finals with no thought of being content. The Grizzlies wanted to continue on to the conference finals and if they didn’t make it that far they would at least be able to know they gave their best effort.
Game 1: The Surprises Continue
The series started just two days after the Grizzlies upset the Spurs in as hard a fought series as Memphis fans had ever seen in person. no one would blame the team if they used the fatigue excuse. Instead the Grizzlies came out like the team that was rested and waiting at home while Oklahoma City came out unprepared for the Grizzlies game and looking a step slow to most free balls.
Perhaps the Thunder had been expecting the Spurs and hadn’t done their homework on the Grizzlies. Perhaps, despite losing the season series 3-1 to the Grizzlies, the Thunder believed they were just too good for the Grizzlies. After all the Thunder had blown away the Denver Nuggets in 5 games in what was supposed to be a hotly contested series. Whatever the reason the Thunder didn’t come out ready to play in game 1.
Zach Randolph put on a shooting clinic scoring 34 points, a franchise playoff hight breaking the mark he set against San Antonio two nights earlier, and teammate Marc Gasol chipped in with 20 pts and the Grizzlies dominated the paint as well as every other hustle stat forcing 18 turnovers, grabbing 17 offensive rebounds and scoring 22 second chance points.
Kevin Durant neutralized Randolph’s performance with 33 points and 11 boards and Russell Westbrook also lit up the scoreboard for 29 points. However Westbrook, after starting 5 of 6 from the floor finished 4 of 17 and he failed to get others involved. Super sub James Harden was held to only 5 points on 2 of 5 shooting in the game as the Thunder’s bench failed to contribute much more than the starters. Only Dequan Cook had a positive +/- rating in the game for OKC.
After the game Kevin Durant called Zach Randolph “the best Power Forward in the league.”
The Grizzlies had once again stolen home court advantage in the first game of the series and now looked to be sitting in the driver’s seat in the series.
Game 2: The Thunder Comes Back
Game 1 was supposed to be the game where the Thunder had the fresh legs but it was Game 2 when Oklahoma City started to get out and run.
Faced with an almost impossible position of going down 2-0, the Thunder came out ready to hunt some bear and that desperation was apparent early. OKC raced out to a 28-17 first quarter lead paced by all-stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook but also getting a lot of support from the bench, in particular James Hardin, Eric Maynor and Nick Collison. The OKC bench tripled their first game output with 48 points after scoring only 16 in game 1.
The Grizzlies fought back as has been their habit this season but were never able to draw even after the Thunder’s fast start. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol exemplified the Grizzlies struggles as they were a combined 5 of 21 from the field for 28 points after scoring 54 combined in game 1. Mike Conley and O J Mayo did their best to keep the Grizzlies in the game but the duo couldn’t do enough.
With the relatively easy 111-102 win the Thunder evened the series at 1-1 and retook the momentum they had lost in game 1.
Game 3: Grizzlies Defense and Fans Pull the Team Through
Game 3 was tight in the first quarter as both teams showed signs of stress early in the game. The Grizzlies fell behind 15-8 early but fought back to take a 2 points lead at the end of the quarter. From that point until the beginning of the 4th quarter it was all OKC as the Thunder outscored the Grizzlies 56-41 in the middle quarters.
The Grizzlies, down 13 points to start the 4th, went with a small lineup of Darrell Arthur, Shane Battier, Tony Allen, O J Mayo and Mike Conley. That group was challenged by Lionel Hollins too. Hollins told the group that the big men (Randolph and Gasol) had carried the team so far and it was time for them to stand up. Stand up they did holding the Thunder to only 10 ponts in the 4th quarter, the fourth fewest points in a quarter during the playoffs since 2005, and Memphis scored enough to force overtime.
In overtime Mike Conley (18 points in the game) scored six points and Zach Randolph, who scored 21 points and grabbed a franchise playoff high 21 rebounds in the game, dropped in five big points as well as the Grizzlies outscored the Thunder 15-7 in the extra period. Kevin Durant was 0-3 in the extra period to finish with only 22 points, a playoff low for the league’s leading scorer.
Game 4: An Instant Classic
Game 4 started off the way Game 3 ended with the Grizzlies jumping on the Thunder for a quarter and a half. However, after building a 17 point lead with under 6 minutes remaining in the half the Grizzlies committed their first mental error in the series. They let their foot off the gas. OKC stormed back into the game outscoring the Grizzlies 22-9 the rest of the half to make the game close 53-49.
More importantly the Thunder had regained their swagger.
The game was a battle all the way in the second half as both teams made runs and responded. However it looked like OKC made the last run taking a 10 point lead with just over four minutes remaining. Some fans began to make their way out of the arena but this game was far from over.
The Grizzlies began to make their run off of defense of course. O J Mayo blocked a Russell Westbrook shot and the that play re-energized the team. Conley made two free throws, Mayo made a short jumper, Gasol made back to back baskets and Zach Randolph made two more free throws and suddenly the Grizzlies were within three points with 1:12 remaining. Kendrick Perkins missed two huge free throws but Mayo missed an open 20 ft jumper with 0:38 seconds remaining. Westbrook waited out most of the shot clock but as he went for the game winning shot Marc Gasol came up to block it. Conley took the ball up the right side of the court, rotated over to the left and with 3 seconds remaining drained a 26 ft shot to tie the score.
In the first overtime the Thunder jumped to a quick 7 point lead behind Kevin Durant’s big three point shot. Once again the Grizzlies found themselves in a hole with time running out. Once again the Grizzlies responded to the situation. O J Mayo drained two three point shots sandwiched around another Durant jumper and when Zach Randolph made two free throws the Grizzlies were back within one point with 0:48 seconds remaining.
On OKC’s next possession Marc Gasol stole the ball from Kevin Durant and Mike Conley pushed the ball up the court, found nothing there and threw it out, got it back outside the arc and suddenly launched a long shot that bounded off the rim and after a scramble Westbrook got the rebound and was fouled by Conley.
That series was doubly bad. Not only did Conley not run the offense when there was plenty of time remaining on the shot clock but his foul was his 6th in the game. Hollins brought in O J Mayo to try and deny Westbrook the ball on the throw in but was forced to foul Westbrook instead, fouling out in the process. After Westbrook’s Free throws the Grizzlies found themselves down 3 and their three best long range shooters having fouled out or in street clothes.
Rookie Greivis Vasquez had played well in the series so Hollins’ turned to him as the shot clock was running out and Vasquez delivered draining a long shot after trying to draw a foul on Westbrook with only 9 seconds remaining in the game. Durant’s 27 foot attempt at the buzzer fell short and the game went into triple overtime.
In the third overtime the Grizzlies simply ran out of gas. With out Mayo or Conley the offense didn’t run as effectively and Kevin Durant started getting enough space to get open looks and the Thunder ran away down the stretch.
Game 5: The First Truly Bad Effort of the Playoffs
Two nights after the marathon game in Memphis, the Thunder looked like a young team with lots of energy while the Grizzlies looked like an old team. Randolph and Gasol were too gassed to give the necessary effort down on the blocks after logging 56 and 57 minutes respectively the night before.
The Grizzlies started out fast and looked like maybe they still had enough gas to make a game of it but that was an illusion. The Grizzlies were outscored by 11 points in the 2nd quarter and eight points each in the 3rd and 4th quarters as OKC, who had blown double digit leads in game 3 and game 4 never let Memphis make a serious charge in the 99-72 blowout.
Game 6: Backs Against the Wall
After getting blown out in Game 5 everyone wondered if the Grizzlies had enough left to pull out one more win for the frenzied Memphis fans especially after the Grizzlies found themselves down 10 points at halftime. The team had been worked so hard to get to this position that no one would blame the team if that was all they had left.
Once again the team proved the everyone wrong. The Grizzlies came out on fire to start the second half led by their defense that held OKC to only 29 second half points while scoring 28 points in the 3rd quarter alone and running away with an easy win. This time it was OKC’s turn to say ‘no mas’ as the more desperate team once again won.
With O J Mayo reinserted into the starting five lineup the Grizzlies were able to spread the court more forcing OKC to either give uncontested shots to Conley and Mayo or allow Randolph more room to operate inside. Randolph led the team with 30 points while every starter except Gasol reached double figures in the game and Gasol’s 8 points and 9 rebounds were all the Grizzlies needed from him in the game.
The Grizzlies held Durant to a mere 11 points in the game and while Russell Westbrook had 27 points the rest of the team failed to fill in the loss of points from Durant.
Game 7: Win or Go Home
So it came down to one game. One night with one team celebrating moving on to play Dallas and the other leaving with their heads hanging. Surprisingly in a series as tight and competitive as this one was only one game had been decided by fewer than 10 points and that was a nine point win.
This game would hold true to form as well. The Thunder, playing in front of their fans who were every bit as enthusiastic as Memphis fans in the series, opened up with identical 21-17 scores in the first and second quarter to take an 8 point halftime lead. This time however the Grizzlies simply couldn’t get back into the game. The Thunder answered the bell to start the second half and never relented behind Kevin Durant’s huge scoring night (39 points).
So the Grizzlies remarkable season came to an end 105-90. The game wasn’t really as close as the final score indicated because the Grizzlies once again refused to just surrender. The Grizzlies scored 32 points in the final stanza, their highest scoring quarter in the series, but it wasn’t enough.
So the Grizzlies had to go home. Every NBA team save one ends the season on a negative note and the Grizzlies weren’t that team this year. Still it was an amazing accomplishment for a franchise one called a Triple A organization and one of the worst front offices in the NBA. The Grizzlies left OKC knowing they had earned a tremendous amount of respect around the country. They won the most games in Western Conference history for a #8 seed. They defeated a 61 win team in San Antonio. They took the 55 win Oklahoma City Thunder to a triple overtime and a seventh game before falling.
And if the team didn’t realize what they had accomplished leaving Oklahoma City then they got a taste of it when they arrived back in Memphis. Over a thousand fans were waiting on the team’s plane when it landed to let the players know just how special a year it had been and how proud the community was in their effort.