Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Grizzlies survive the Thunder in Overtime

After suffering a disappointing loss in Game 1 against the Thunder, the Grizzlies entered Game 2 on Monday night fully aware that they were in a must-win situation. You could  tell that they were aware of this judging by their strong first quarter in which they took a commanding 24-16 lead. I sensed that at the beginning of Game 1, the Grizzlies simply were exhausted from their previous two games against the Suns and Mavericks, both of which were games that they needed to win. They definitely seemed to have plenty of energy at the beginning of Game 2, which they seemed to carry over from the second half of Game 1. As a result of this change in attitude and energy, the Grizzlies found themselves up 46-43 at the end of the first half.

One of the keys to the Grizzlies taking the lead into the first half was the play of Courtney Lee who led the team with 9 points at the half, which was more than the 8 points he scored in all of Game 1. Even though none of Lee’s points came from beyond the arc, the fact that he got involved in the offense and found ways to score was huge. The Grizzlies cannot have Lee be silent offensively if they want to win this series since he is one of their few players on the wing who can score. Dave Joerger clearly made it an emphasis to get Lee scoring the ball and it paid off early on. Probably the biggest concern that the Grizzlies had up to this point was that Russell Westbrook already had 17 points, Kevin Durant only had 8 points, and despite holding the Thunder to 38% shooting from the field, they only found themselves up 3.

During the 3rd quarter, Dave Joerger went to a lineup that featured Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Mike Miller, Marc Gasol, and Zach Randolph. On offense, the strategy was to get easy buckets in the paint with Randolph and Gasol posting up or having Tony Allen cut to basket for a lay in. On defense, the strategy was to have Tony Allen keep Kevin Durant quiet, have Mike Conley slow down  Westbrook, and force the rest of the Thunder to score the points. This lineup certainly accomplished what they set out to do, and as a result the Grizzlies found themselves up 68-65 at the end of the 3rd quarter.

To start the 4th quarter, Joerger rested Conley and Randolph and went small with Beno Udrih, Courtney Lee, Mike Miller, Tony Allen, and Marc Gasol. That lineup expanded the lead thanks to Courtney Lee knocking down a clutch three to beat the shot clock and Beno Udrih knocking down some mid-range jumpers. The surprising lift from Udrih was especially nice since the regular backup point guard Nick Calathes is out due to his suspension. Udrih filling the void left by Calathes proved to be huge in the 4th quarter.

With about 5 minutes to go, Joerger brought back the starting lineup except he had Tony Allen in for Tayshaun Prince (who did play despite getting a stomach virus in Game 1). As expected, the Thunder came back, and cut the score down to 2 with about 2 minutes to go. The Grizzlies had the Thunder right where they wanted them, but now they had to finish the job. The Grizzlies thought they had this game won after two key plays. One  was a clutch rebound by Mike Conley off a Zach Randolph miss that resulted in a Mike Miller three. The other was Tony Allen blocking Kevin Durant’s three-point attempt which would have tied the game. However, the Thunder struck back thanks to an improbable 4 point play by Kevin Durant and a last second tip in by Kendrick Perkins that forced overtime after a missed Russell Westbrook jump shot. What sadly allowed the Thunder even a chance at forcing overtime was Mike Conley’s inability to knock down some foul shots.

However, the Grizzlies didn’t let the late 4th quarter magic by the Thunder discourage them in overtime. They went right to work with a Zach Randolph jump shot which sent the message that they weren’t going to just roll over and die as if the basketball gods had it in for them. The Grizzlies rather had the attitude of “We dare you to beat us twice.” The Grizzlies could have easily had the opposite attitude due to two phantom foul calls against Marc Gasol which sent Kevin Durant to the foul line, but the Grizzlies instead kept grinding and kept fighting. Most importantly, Courtney Lee and Zach Randolph knocked down their foul shots at the end of the game, which sealed the Grizzlies’ 111-105 victory. Zach Randolph led the Grizzlies with 25 points and 6 rebounds and Mike Conley was huge as well with 19 points and 12 assists.

With the series now tied 1-1, the Grizzlies have new life going back to Memphis. They got the split they needed and now the pressure is on them to hold serve at home. I predicted that the Grizzlies would win this series in 7 games and I stand by that pick. Aside from that horrible first half in Game 1, the Grizzlies have outplayed the Thunder in this series. I see no reason for that to change once things shift to Memphis, but I am fully prepared for the Thunder to come out swinging and motivated to even things up at 2-2 and reclaim home court.

—Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

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