Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Game 4: Grizzlies 103, Thunder 97 (OT) — Team Defense Trumps a Scoring Star

Posted By on Tue, May 14, 2013 at 1:57 AM

On a day in which the Grizzlies put three players on the NBA's All-Defensive Team, each of those players demonstrated their worthiness in a wild final 29 minutes that turned FedExForum back into "the Grindhouse."

The Grizzlies held the Thunder to 33% shooting after halftime and erased a 17-point second-quarter deficit to first force overtime and then take a 3-1 series lead that leaves the team one win away from the franchise's first conference finals.

There was Mike Conley, who made his first All-Defensive team, running down Kevin Durant in transition for a steal that prevented the Thunder from building a multi-possession lead midway through the fourth quarter.

There was Tony Allen, who tied Lebron James with the most first-place votes on the All-Defensive Team, fiercely denying Durant the ball a couple of minutes later and forcing the Thunder into a hurried Serge Ibaka jumper that Marc Gasol blocked.

There was Gasol, who became the second consecutive Defensive Player of the Year to fall to the All-Defensive Second Team, stepping up with 81 seconds left in overtime to take a charge against Thunder guard Reggie Jackson and preserve a precarious one-point lead.

And there was Allen, finally, recovering from what he admitted was a blown assignment to make an instinctual game-sealing steal of a Derek Fisher in-bounds pass with the shot clock off in overtime and the Grizzlies up three.

Gasol, whose DPOY win had been dismissed by Thunder center Kendrick Perkins (who has now shot 3-19 in the series), finished with six blocks. Conley and Allen combined on seven steals.

And they weren't alone. There was Zach Randolph, considered a defensive liability until landing in Memphis, doubling Durant and getting a block with the Grizzlies up one and under a minute to play in the fourth.

There was Tayshaun Prince, who's done graduate work in great NBA team defense, tag-teaming with Allen for some terrific work on Durant, who had 22 points on 8-14 shooting through three quarters and then five points on 2-13 shooting the rest of the way, including 0-5 in overtime. He even missed a crucial late free-throw again.

"We had three guys who were All-Defense and everybody [in that locker room] was happy for them. Everybody. We're a team," Lionel Hollins said afterward.

Durant is now averaging more than 45 minutes a game in this series and hasn't mustered any late-game heroics since the series opener, which just happened to be the only game where Allen wasn't a significant fourth-quarter factor.

"Kevin's having to do so much," Conley said afterward. "We're throwing different guys at him, trying to wear him down. We know we can't stop him but we're trying to contain him the best we can."

For the Grizzlies, after giving up 56 points on 54% shooting and falling behind so far in the first half, the defensive clampdown and spirited comeback in the second half and overtime felt like a team seizing the game rather than merely holding on.

"In the second half, we got back to being who we are," said Gasol, who had expressed dissatisfaction with the team's progression from Game 2 to 3, despite the earlier victory. "I felt like the other night we got away with one, but tonight we battled back."

While the Grizzlies offensive performance wasn't pretty against an underrated Thunder defense, they made enough plays late to pull off the comeback. Randolph (23-12-3) got back to work on the offensive glass, securing six offensive rebounds after getting only one in Game 3. Conley (24-3-5), despite a poor overall shooting night, found his missing long-range stroke, hitting 4-10 from behind the three-point line. And Gasol (23-11 with a surprising zero assists) hit the game's biggest shot, connecting from near the free-throw line to give the Grizzlies a three-point lead in overtime with the shot clock off.

The Grizzlies now take a 3-1 lead back to Oklahoma City in a series in which every game has been up for grabs in the final minutes. Durant, who got very little help down the stretch after some good first-half play from teammates Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson, and Kevin Martin, looks tired but could still rally.

"The team in that other locker room is not dying," Lionel Hollins said, late in the night. "We have to go out and win the series."

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