Game 4 of the Grizzlies-Thunder series was the final playoff game of the day on Saturday, and the stakes were high. The Thunder were playing to even up the series at 2-2 and reclaim home court advantage while the Grizzlies were playing to take a commanding 3-1 lead. If you read my Game 4 preview on here, you would know that I said that the first six minutes of this game would tell us a ton about how the rest of the game was going to go. Well, the first six minutes indicated that the Thunder weren’t fazed by the previous two games, which indicated that we were in for a long battle like the previous two games. They came out swinging, but fortunately the Grizzlies were there to answer. The Grizzlies clearly planned to continue to do what they have done this whole series which is to pound the rock inside and make things miserable for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The Thunder on the other hand were trying to get Durant and Westbrook in a good groove while also getting their role players involved. The first quarter ultimately went more the way of the Grizzlies. They had an 18-15 lead at the conclusion of the first quarter in a low scoring affair which meant that the tempo favored them and that they weren’t letting Durant and Westbrook get comfortable, holding Durant to just 2 points in the first quarter.
During the second quarter, the Thunder started to get some space from the Grizzlies despite a lack of contribution from Durant. The key was that their role players started to step up. I personally felt that in order for the Thunder to win this game they needed their role players to give Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant support, so naturally this help from their role players was huge. In Game 3, the Grizzlies outscored the Thunder bench by more than 20 points, but this time it was the Thunder’s bench outscoring the Grizzlies’ bench 22-7, and as would be expected the Thunder took the lead into the half by the score of 42-35. However, the real question at the half was whether or not their bench could keep this up. Especially since Durant had only 3 points at the half and Westbrook only had 7.
The Thunder got off to a nice start in the 3rd quarter by getting Kevin Durant to hit a wide open three and they extended their lead to double digits. However, Marc Gasol went on a 6-0 tear by himself to cut the Thunder to lead back to 7. J.A. Adande reported at halftime that the Grizzlies’ coaching staff told him they were hoping to get their bigs to be more active, and Marc Gasol certainly helped contribute to executing that game plan. However, it wasn’t enough to cut into the lead any further and the Thunder got the lead to balloon back up to 12 largely due to the Grizzlies’ ineptitude to get anybody other than Gasol going. As a matter of fact, Gasol, who had 21 points at the end of the 3rd quarter, was the only member of the Grizzlies in double figure scoring at that point. So while the plan to get Gasol going was working, nobody else on the Grizzlies was able to get going. Mike Conley was especially ineffective, having just 2 points through the first three quarters.
However, in the 4th quarter, the Grizzlies started to grind and slow things down, which helped the Grizzlies to chip away at the Thunder lead. Tony Allen (a.k.a. the Grindfather) was the key to the comeback through his defense and some big buckets down the stretch. A three by Mike Miller cut the lead to one and then a Tony Allen bucket gave the Grizzlies a 74-73 lead during the Grizzlies’ following possession to cap off a 14-4 run. The Grizzlies didn’t panic when the Thunder got a big lead. They continued to do what they do which is play stingy defense and look for easy buckets inside. It’s a formula that works in the long-term, which is why it’s called “grinding”. However, as was appropriate, the Thunder found a way to tie things up and force overtime after things appeared over after a Marc Gasol jump shot. After watching three games of this series, only a fool would think that the Thunder wouldn’t fight until the very end.
In overtime, things started eerily similar to the way things started in the last overtime. Kevin Durant hit a jump shot to start things off, and then Mike Miller came back with a clutch three. The Grizzlies once again showed zero fear when it came to playing Kevin Durant. In addition, Russell Westbrook missed a horrible three-point attempt and Zach Randolph made the Thunder pay with a jump shot. The Grizzlies looked like they were going to go up 3-1 at this point. However, the Thunder somehow found a way to win thanks to Reggie Jackson and the Grizzlies’ inability to hit some shots. Jackson finished with 32 points and 9 rebounds off the bench and made his free throws in overtime to seal the 92-89 win for the Thunder.
The takeaway from tonight’s game is that this is going to be a long series. I said in today’s game preview that the Grizzlies didn’t need to win this game and that the Thunder did. I picked the Grizzlies to win this series in 7, so all things are going true to form as I thought they would. However, that doesn’t mean this loss doesn’t hurt for the Grizzlies. They had a chance to go up 3-1 and they failed to finish the job. But if there is anything we know about the Grizzlies, it’s that they will fight hard and continue to grind until the very end. The Thunder clearly are still very uncomfortable with the Grizzlies’ style of play which is why I still like the Grizzlies’ odds at winning this series.
—Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord