The Lead: With fewer than four minutes left in the third quarter, the Grizzlies had never trailed and had held the league's top-ranked offense to a paltry 44 points on something like 35% shooting. But the Grizzlies offense was sputtering — they were working on a 14-point quarter and shooting in the 30s themselves — and you got the sense that if the Grizzlies didn't find a better offensive flow then Kevin Durant was going to manufacture enough points to win it.
And that's what it started to look like. In scoring 17 straight points for the Thunder from the mid-third into the early fourth, Durant brought his team from nine down at one point to taking their first lead. When the Thunder later pulled up by six with 1:26 to play in regulation on a three-pointer from sixth man Kevin Martin, it looked like they were on the verge of completing the comeback.
Instead it became of battle of big plays, and the Grizzlies made more. Mike Conley — as he had for most of the night — manufactured some points of his own to get it down to a single-possession game and 15 seconds to play. With Russell Westbrook splitting a pair of free throws, the Grizzlies, down three, ran a familiar play that almost never works: An in-bounds lob to the rim. But this time Jerryd Bayless caught the pass and drew contact, just missing a three-point play. A possession later, Bayless was fouled on a baseline drive. With Bayless and Westbrook alternating four straight perfect trips to the line, the game remained a three and the Grizzlies were forced to take a long-range shot. A chaotic possession resulted in a Bayless pump-fake and straightaway dagger to force overtime. Amid all the madness, credit Lionel Hollins for superb late-game management at the end of regulation.
In the final period, Marc Gasol, who had been quiet for much of the night, made decisive plays. His running hook over Kendrick Perkins gave the team a three-point lead. Then the Thunder's stars answered: Durant with a floater and Russell Westbrook with a circus finish in front of the rim. With the Grizzlies down one and the shot-clock off, the Grizzlies went — as they had for much of the game — to Zach Randolph on the right block, even though Nick Collison was guarding him and well and Randolph wasn't getting calls. Randolph missed a seven-footer, but Gasol reached up to tap it home with under a second to play and ran down the floor raising his fist and howling as time expired.
“Shit,” what can you say?
Man of the Match: It was a baton race with Mike Conley (24 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) getting into the lane and making buckets to keep the offense somewhat afloat, then Jerryd Bayless (20 points on 10 field-goal attempts) scoring seven straight to force overtime, then Marc Gasol (14 points, 15 rebounds, 2 blocks) polishing it off.
Nightly Number: There were a lot of complaints about the officials tonight, but only two technical fouls in this game shows some restraint. The first came fewer than two minutes in against Russell Westbrook, who could easily have been tossed seconds later for shoving Marc Gasol. If Westbrook didn't already have one tech, he would have almost certainly gotten one then. Zach Randolph got the other, late in the fourth, and it was building. Randolph wasn't getting calls despite repeated shot attempts in the paint against physical defense from Nick Collison, and you could feel the frustration. After one no call, Randolph had had enough and went right at referee Michael Smith. That was a well-deserved tech. Gasol nearly got one going out to center court to argue a non-call on what appeared to be a travel by Kevin Durant in overtime. And a palpably irked Lionel Hollins rode the officials hard all night.
I try to avoid complaining about officiating, thought I did note a particularly egregious early charge call against rookie Tony Wroten against veteran Derek Fisher. Paint play in the NBA is close to hand-to-hand combat and you could blow the whistle on nearly every one of those plays if you want to. It's all about judgement calls and maintaining a level of fairness in the game. But, Zach Randolph took 23 field goal attempts tonight with 19 coming in the paint and all of them coming within 14 feet. Given the physicality of the game and that kind of shot distribution, his four free-throw attempts does seem a little out of line with what was happening on the floor.
The Match-Up: Some momentous match-ups at both forward spots, with defensive role players doing great work against All-Star opposition. This was the first Griz-Thunder game with Tayshaun Prince in the Grizzlies lineup, and he did well on Kevin Durant. Early on, Prince's ability to use his length and smarts to play off Durant, stay down, and shade him toward Gasol proved extremely effective. Durant got going for that one stretch in the third, but on the game Prince made him work for his points, with Durant getting his game-high 32 points on 11-28 shooting.
On the other end, Nick Collison did terrific work on Zach Randolph. He's a much tougher match-up for Randolph than Kendrick Perkins or Serge Ibaka, and Thunder coach Scotty Brooks recognized that. I thought the Grizzlies ran way too much offense through Randolph on the block tonight. Randolph was relentless and focused (18 rebounds), but he also shot 6-23 with seven turnovers. It just wasn't a great match-up. The Grizzlies' offense improved after the trade not by transferring from heavy iso Rudy to heavy iso Z-Bo, but by moving to an offense built more around the multi-dimensional talents of Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. I felt like they got away from that in this one. Randolph is still an All-Star caliber player, but he's shown no sign this season of being the put-a-team-on-his-back scorer who dominated against the Spurs and Thunder in those playoff games two years ago. The Grizzlies are at their best now when they recognize that.
Elements of Style: Tony Allen had early foul trouble, which led to some extended bench time in the second quarter. But even when Allen's not in the game, he's still in the game. We got lots of “I see you” shouts of approval at teammates, some bodybuilder flexing in response to a Gasol bucket, and even some dance moves. Later, Allen rolled an ankle running out to argue a soon-to-be-overturned offensive goal-tending call on his big tip-in.
But I think Gasol got the best of Allen in the style department, and that's hard to do: There was his flat-footed block of a Kendrick Perkins jumper, which was followed by a little woofing. There was his graceful switched-hand finger roll. And there were the running celebrations after each of his big overtime buckets.
The Jacob Riis Report: I've thought for most of the season that the Thunder were the team to beat in the West, but I'd be a little worried about depth, toughness, and composure. I think I would now give the Grizzlies the edge in each of those categories. But Durant is so good he alone probably trumps it all. Still, I'm starting to think the West is looking pretty open.
Tweet O’ the Game: Gasol's running hook inspired this reaction from my co-worker Greg Akers:
I think Marc Gasol just made me pregnant. — @GregAkers
Then, Gasol's tip-in game winner, inspired this, from my editor, Bruce VanWyngarden:
Akers is having twins. — @sylamore1
Where They Stand: The Grizzlies improved to 46-21 and maintain a slim — and probably difficult to sustain — lead over the Clippers and Nuggets for third place in the West. The win also brings the Grizzlies to within three games of the Thunder, with the tiebreaker over them.
Looking Ahead: The Grizzlies travel to New Orleans to face the Hornets on Friday night.
Announced Attendance: 18,119
Outside of Bayless' big contribution, the Grizzlies got nothing from their bench, with seventh and eighth men Quincy Pondexter and Ed Davis combining to go scoreless in 21 minutes. Darrell Arthur was again inactive.