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The Thunder blast the Grizzlies on Beale Street, which forces a Game 7 on Saturday

The Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder squared off Thursday night in Memphis.  It was Game 6, and like all Game 6s, there was a lot on the line. The Grizzlies were aiming to close out the series in 6 games and the Thunder was trying to force a Game 7 back in Oklahoma City. With the previous 4 games all going to overtime, nobody expected this game to be any less of a battle. Especially with the stakes heightened.

The Thunder got off to a really nice 16-6 start largely due to Kevin Durant, who scored 10 of their first 14 points. The Grizzlies were able to wake up a little bit and go on 6-0 run later on in the quarter thanks to Marc Gasol, but the team still found themselves down 25-17 at the end of the first quarter.

During the second quarter, the Grizzlies were able to play the Thunder to a draw through the first 3 minutes of the 2nd quarter, but at some point they wanted to start chipping into the lead before the half. The one encouraging part for the Grizzlies in a strange way was that Durant had 18 of the Thunder’s first 31 points. With him getting practically no help from anybody else, the Grizzlies had to feel confident that Durant would cool off and that the rest of the Thunder would continue to remain inert. One of the impressive things about this Grizzlies team is that they continue to execute their solid game plan no matter the circumstances. Rather than jacking up threes to get back into the game, the Grizzlies continued to work the ball inside and look for opportune outside shots that were in accordance with the rhythm of the game. When playing that way gets you up 3-2, why change as a result of a one half of basketball? Similar to Game 5, Mike Miller started to find his groove from beyond the arc, which was crucial to the Grizzlies’ ability to chip away at the lead. As we have learned over the course of the series, when either Mike Miller or Courtney Lee (or both) get going, things start to go the Grizzlies’ way because it creates more room down low for Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph to go to work.

Unfortunately, after getting the Thunder lead cut to 5, the Grizzlies couldn’t get any closer and other members of the Thunder started to wake up. Both Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson started to get going, which helped get the Thunder lead up to 12 with 2 minutes to go in the half. The Thunder continued to find success as the quarter closed, and went into the half with a 56-41 lead.

The second half unfortunately didn’t bring any good fortune for the Grizzlies. The Thunder won the 3rd quarter 26-20 and after that the ball game was pretty much wrapped up, ending in a 104-84 Thunder victory. Kevin Durant woke from his slumber and went off for 36 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. Russell Westbrook had 25 points and 9 rebounds, and Reggie Jackson chipped in 16 points off the bench. As for the Grizzlies, Marc Gasol finished with 17 points and 5 rebounds in 33 minutes of play, and Zach Randolph finished with 16 points and 8 rebounds in 35 minutes of play, but nobody else showed up. To make things worse, Mike Conley left the game with a right hamstring strain and his status for Game 7 on Saturday remains up in the air.

The only thing that should give Grizzlies fans hope is that they’ve shown that they can win in Oklahoma City and they’ve also shown that they can bounce back from tough losses. They know that the pressure is now squarely on the shoulders of the Thunder and the likely league MVP Kevin Durant. The Grizzlies have nothing to hang their heads about if they lose on Saturday. If they lose, people will say they fought hard but didn’t have the ammo. If the Thunder loses, Scott Brooks is likely getting fired, Kevin Durant’s MVP status gets debated, and Russell Westbrook’s future with the franchise gets put into question. The Thunder have way more on the line on Saturday than the Grizzlies do, which is why I like the Grizzlies’ chances so long as they don’t do anything radical in terms of changing their game plan.

The Grizzlies need to continue to pound it inside, play gritty defense, and look for the threes as they come. If they do that on Saturday, they’ll put themselves in a great position to win. The only thing I would like to see would be a stronger start. The 1st quarter on Saturday will be HUGE and if the Grizzlies fall behind early, they’re probably done for. Of course, if they get a lead or only are down by 2 or 3 points at the end of the 1st quarter, then we’ll be in for a dogfight. I think that while the Grizzlies packed it in tonight a bit down the stretch, they won’t do that on Saturday. They’ll give it all they got and dare Kevin Durant to drop 30+ points on Tony Allen again. You can call me crazy, but I still like the Grizzlies to find a way to win Game 7 and advance to the second round.

—Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Tags: Memphis Grizzlies

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