Game 5 between the Grizzlies and Thunder on Tuesday night had a lot on the line with the series tied 2-2. Both teams knew that whoever came out on top was going to have a stranglehold on the series. The Grizzlies let the previous game in Memphis get away from them in overtime and they were eager to erase the bad aftertaste of that loss from their mouths and once again taste the savory flavor of victory.
The Grizzlies got off to a really nice start in this game largely due to Zach Randolph and Tayshaun Prince who combined for 18 points in the first quarter. What kept the Thunder in the game during the first quarter was the sensational play of Russell Westbrook, who scored 14 points, all of which were scored in the last 6 minutes of the quarter. The Grizzlies however outplayed the Thunder and had a 30-25 lead at the end of the 1st quarter.
During the 2nd quarter, the Grizzlies extended their lead thanks to a 9-0 run that lasted for over 2 minutes. Marc Gasol started to get rolling and Mike Miller hit some shots as well, totaling 11 points in the 2nd quarter. But what really made the difference in this quarter and actually the 1st half as a whole was the fact that the Grizzlies were shooting a much higher percentage from the field, turning the ball over less, and also winning the battle on the boards. By winning these three categories decisively, the Grizzlies found themselves taking a commanding 55-43 lead into the half.
To start the second half, the Grizzlies expanded the lead to as much as 20 points and it looked like they were on the verge of a blowout. However, the Thunder didn’t go quietly into the night and during the last 5 minutes of the 3rd quarter, the Thunder cut the lead to 6, going on a 18-6 run that was sparked by Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Serge Ibaka. With only a 76-70 lead at the end of the 3rd Quarter, the Grizzlies went from thinking they had this game won to realizing that they were going to be in for a tough battle in the 4th quarter.
Things continued to go in favor of the Thunder at the beginning of the 4th quarter. Rather than building their lead back up, the Grizzlies saw their lead gradually dwindle and within 6 minutes, they had lost the lead courtesy of a Kevin Durant three. Zach Randolph was able to convert 1 of 2 foul shots, which tied the game back up, but it was clear that momentum was with the Thunder. The Grizzlies were in grave danger of blowing a lead that they had worked so hard to build and losing a game that they should have won. Fortunately, the Grizzlies found a way to get things going thanks to Russell Westbrook clanging some threes and finding a way to score inside. The Grizzlies got the lead back up to 5, but unfortunately, Caron Butler got lucky on a 4-point play that cut the lead down to 1. It was that kind of game.
Fortunately, the Thunder went on to miss some more shots and eventually after getting a steal, with 30 seconds to go in the game, Tony Allen was fouled and went to the foul line with the Grizzlies up 1. After making his first foul shot, Allen missed the second, but the ball took a friendly bounce into the hands of Tayshaun Prince, which was then given to Zach Randolph. The Grizzlies called time out and all they needed to do was draw up one good play and they would win the game. Unfortunately, Russell Westbrook stripped Mike Conley and Westbrook took it in for the slam to tie it up with 4 seconds to go. The following play also didn’t go the way the Grizzlies wanted it to which resulted in the game being taken to overtime for the 4th straight time in the series.
Overtime was a back and forth affair with the Grizzlies getting up four thanks to Mike Miller knocking down some clutch threes, but the Thunder struck back and got things tied up at 98 apiece with only a minute and a half to go. With the Grizzlies up 100-98, Kevin Durant went to the foul line and knocked down the first free throw. On the second free throw attempt, Joey Crawford took the ball from Durant and screamed at the scorer’s table for an unknown reason. Durant went on to miss the second free throw once Crawford returned with the ball, which naturally was incredibly controversial since Crawford clearly broke Durant’s rhythm and may have been the reason he missed the foul shot. The Grizzlies obviously caught a break with this but failed to score on the following possession.
The Thunder had one more shot to win the game with less than 3 seconds to go. The ball naturally went to Kevin Durant who hoisted up a three that clanged off the rim. However, Serge Ibaka tipped the ball into the basket, but unfortunately for the Thunder, the basket was waved off. The Grizzlies escaped with a 100-99 victory in overtime and have now taken a commanding 3-2 lead in the series.
There were three heroes for the Grizzlies tonight: Zach Randolph, Mike Miller, and Mike Conley. Randolph set the tone early in the game and was the motor behind their early success. He finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Conley hit some clutch shots down the stretch and stepped up when the Grizzlies really needed a basket. He finished with 17 points and 4 assists. Mike Miller provided a much-needed scoring threat off the bench along with some big threes in overtime. He finished with 21 points, hitting 5 of 8 three-point attempts.
With a firm grip on this series, the Grizzlies will want to finish the job in Memphis on Thursday night. While I did pick the Grizzlies to win the series in 7 games, Game 7 wins on the road are the hardest wins to get in the NBA playoffs. The Grizzlies do not want to go back to Oklahoma City tied 3-3 if it means their very lives. It’s a very hostile environment in there, and I don’t see the Grizzlies winning 3 of 4 games in Oklahoma City, which would be the case if they won a Game 7. But with that all being said, I do feel very confident in the Grizzlies’ chances of winning this series, and more specifically Game 6. There is still a lot of work to do, and the Thunder will come out motivated on Thursday night to bring this back to Oklahoma City. Hopefully the Grizzlies can get out in front early like they did tonight, but instead find a way to maintain that lead rather than having it shrink.
—Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord