OKLAHOMA CITY – Every player in the Thunder locker room is weary.
The Lakers and Spurs are out.
Every last man on the Grizzlies roster is exhausted.
The Magic and Knicks are gone.
Go ahead. Try to tell us what’s going to happen next.
Conventional wisdom, not to mention statistics provided by Elias Sports Bureau, says Oklahoma City is now in control. In series tied at 2-2, the team that won Game 4 prevailed 73.9 percent of the time in the past.
But what does that past have to do with the Thunder blowing a 16-point lead in the third quarter of Game 3 and losing to the Grizzlies in overtime? What does the past have to do with the Grizzlies blowing an 18-point lead in the first half and coming back from being 10 points down with five minutes left in regulation of Game 4? What does the past have anything to do with all of the insanity that happened through three mind-bending overtimes?
“I’ve kind of always felt like momentum isn’t a real thing. It’s not a tangible thing,” Thunder forward Nick Collison said. “I think the way this series has gone, you just have to come out and play each game.
“We’ve played great and we’ve played terrible in this series at different times. So we know that we’re capable of winning and we’re capable of dropping a game. Our mindset is we have to be ready to play in Game 5. I’m sure theirs is the same way. The stuff that happened in the past isn’t going to matter.”
If this is a so-called chess match, then the grand masters on the benches are out of moves. Lionel Hollins went small with his Grizzlies. Scott Brooks went small with his Thunder. Hollins went big. Brooks went big. In Game 4, they went until just short of 1 a.m. in what practically became an all-night pick-up game.
“It’s a dogfight of a series,” Hollins said. “Nobody said this series is going to be easy (with either team winning) 4-1 or 4-2. We’re playing with a lot of heart and it showed in the last two games.
“It’s just the will to keep competing. You’re down 10 with five minutes to go and you just keep competing. You’re dead in the water after being down early and you keep fighting. That’s what the playoffs have always been about. Both teams have demonstrated that.”
The Grizzlies have demonstrated again and again in the playoffs that they were not overwhelmed or intimidated by any situation. They went into San Antonio and stunned the No. 1-seeded Spurs to open the playoffs and they rolled into Oklahoma City and knocked off the Thunder in Game 1.
When Gary Neal hit his buzzer-beating shot to take the Grizzlies down in Game 5 of the first round, many thought it was the blow that would stagger upstart Memphis and end the Cinderella story. Many were wrong.
If it’s history you’re looking to dig up, consider that the last three teams in the NBA playoffs to win a triple-overtime game eventually lost the series.
Who expected the Thunder to get up off the floor after the Grizzlies landed that early haymaker on Monday night and got them down by 18? Who expected the Thunder to ultimately win the battle in the paint 56-50 after the Grizzlies pounded them 20-6 in the first quarter?
Who figured the Grizzlies’ frontcourt combination of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol would become the first 20-point, 20-rebound teammates in consecutive playoff games since Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld in 1979? Who figured Mike Conley’s 3-pointer at the end of regulation would only last five minutes as the wildest shot in Game 4 until Greivis Vasquez worked his magic?
“Anyone who knows what’s going to happen in this series, they’re full of it,” said the Grizzlies’ Shane Battier. “Because they don’t.”
Not with all that’s happened. Not with all that’s left.
Is this as wild, indescribable and inexplicable as it can get?
As Conley said the other night when somebody asked him if that was the biggest shot he’d ever made: “So far.”