It was a little over two years ago that the Grizzlies and Thunder met in the conference semi-finals. Game 4 was played on May 9th and would be a classic battle.
Just like this year, the Grizzlies led 2-1 heading into the game. The Grizzlies had won game 3 by 8 points and the crowd was anxious to see another big home win on the way to another series win for the team that had never won a playoff game much less a series heading into the playoffs.
It was not to be.
Instead the Grizzlies faithful witnessed one of the truly classic playoff games ever contested.
The Grizzlies were coming off their upset of top ranked San Antonio in the first round and, despite playing without one of their best players in Rudy Gay, were playing inspired basketball behind their big man tandem of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. The Thunder were led by their young stars Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. It was supposed to be the start of a great rivalry between two of the younger teams in the league.
Who knew how true that would become in light of this year’s series.
The Grizzlies had opened the series with a 13 point win in Oklahoma City 114-101. The Thunder had responded with a 9 point win in Game 2, 111-102. Game 3 had gone into overtime with the Grizzlies pulling out the win setting the stage for the classic game 4 battle.
The Grizzlies had opened the game strongly scoring 28 points in the first quarter while holding OKC to a mere 16 points. The Thunder charged back in the 2nd quarter scoring 33 points to close the gap to only 4 points at intermission. The Thunder inched even closer in the 3rd, closing the gap to 1 point. Little did anyone know at the time that the game hadn’t even gotten interesting yet.
The lead changed hands five times in the first 3 minutes of the quarter before OKC made a mini-run to take a 3 point lead heading into a timeout. Kevin Durant entered the game during the timeout and immediately made an impact. He stole a Mike Conley pass and threw down a monster to increase the lead to 5 points for the Thunder. both teams traded baskets until James Harden made a steal leading to another dunk by Durant to extend the lead to 87-80 with 5:56 remaining.
Things looked bleak for the Grizzlies coming out of the timeout as Zach Randolph missed a shot and Russell Westbrook made a basket and was fouled. His free throw increased the lead to 89-80 with just over five minutes remaining. However, after a few Grizzlies free throws offset by a couple of OKC baskets, the Grizzlies mounted another charge. O J Mayo blocked a Westbrook shot leading to a foul of Mike Conley who missed the first free throw but made the second. A stolen Dequan Cook pass led to another Grizzlies basket. Another OKC miss and Marc Gasol made a hoop off of a Conley assist and the game was back in play at 92-89 with 3:17 to play.
OKC quieted the crowd for a second with a jumper by Westbrook and 2 free throws by Durant but the Grizzlies came back scoring on anther Gasol shot and two free throws from Zach Randolph. With the score 96-93 and only 49 seconds remaining, Kendrick Perkins missed two free throws. Mayo missed a 20 footer but Gasol blocked a Westbrook shot. Conley then stepped into a 3 point shot to tie the game with 3 seconds remaining in regulation. Westbrook’s shot at the buzzer hit the front rim and the game went into OT.
The first overtime period opened poorly as both Conley and Mayo fouled the Thunder while shooting giving OKC a four point lead before Zach Randolph, coming up big again, drained an 11 foot shot to get the Grizzlies on the board. A Perkins tip-in of a missed Harden lay-up attempt was followed by a Conley miss and then a Durant 3 to give the Thunder a point lead with 2:12 remaining. Mayo answered with a 3 of his own but Durant answered back with a basket with only 1:30 remaining to stretch the lead back to 107-101.
Mayo threw in another 3 and then Durant had a pass stolen by Randolph. He was fouled and made both FTs to pull the Grizzlies to 107-106 with 48 seconds remaining. After a timeout Durant had the ball stolen by Gasol but Conley missed a three to take the lead. Conley fouled out trying to steal the ball from Westbrook. Then it what would be looked back at many times, instead of using someone else Hollins reinserted Mayo with 5 fouls (when a foul was obviously needed). Mayo was forced to foul Westbrook forcing him out of the game as well. Westbrook calmly made both FT attempts to stretch the lead back to 3 points and Memphis’ best backcourt tandem had fouled out of the game.
Greivis Vasquez came in and buried a one-handed ducking three-point shot with 9 seconds remaining to tie the game once again. After a OKC 20 second timeout, Kevin Durant’s 27 foot three-point shot bounced off the rim and the team headed into a second OT tied at 109.
The Grizzlies trailed or were tied for most of the 2nd OT until Shane Battier followed his own miss with an 11 foot shot to give the Grizzlies the lead 114-112. Another Westbrook basket was followed by a Vasquez driving shot and foul. His free throw gave the Grizzlies a 3 point lead with just over a minute remaining. Harden drained a 3 to tie the score once again. Gasol tapped in a Randolph miss putting the Grizzlies back up 119-1117 with 45 seconds remaining. Westbrook again scored to tie the score.
Then came a terrible Memphis possession. Randolph missed a lay-up but Gasol tipped the rebound back but also missed. Randolph grabbed that miss only to fail to convert the lay-up. Three chances within two feet and no points. However, Westbrook again shot with 5 seconds remaining bounced off the front of the rim and the second OT ended tied at 119.
The Grizzlies were drained and without their best two guards in the 3rd OT period. The Thunder game was still close however with 3:13 remaining when the Thunder went on a 10-2 spurt to win the game.
Although the series went 7 games the last three games were not tightly contested. Game 4 turned out to be the climax of the series. The Thunder went on to lose in the conference finals that year but last season represented the conference in the NBA Finals against Miami. Memphis of course lost in seven games to the LA Clippers last season.
There were quite a few remarkable performances in the game. Marc Gasol (26 points and 21 rebounds) and Zach Randolph (34 points and 16 rebounds became the fourth teammates in NBA history to put up a 20/20 and 30/15 game in a game. Russell Westbrook (40 points) and Kevin Durant (35) to score 35+ points in a game together.
And tonight, the Grizzlies look for redemption against the same Thunder team that they played such a great game against just over two years ago. The Grizzlies have already gotten their redemption on the Clippers. Tonight could be redemption against the Thunder as well.