MEMPHIS — The Thunder beat up the Grizzlies and then the Grizzlies beat up themselves.
“We got embarrassed,” said Mike Conley.
“We didn’t have it,” said Shane Battier. “The ubiquitous ‘it.’ Whatever ‘it’ is, we didn’t have it.”
So it’s been a fun ride, but now the Grizzlies are at the edge of the cliff.
That’s how everyone sees it.
Everyone, that is, except the Grizzlies.
“The series is not over,” said Memphis coach Lionel Hollins. “I’m sure a lot of you guys are writing about it being over. I still believe in my team. I’m sure we’ll come back and regroup … and be ready.”
“He says this is where we find out who we are,” said Conley. “Find out the kind of people we are. What kind of players we are. Because you don’t know until your back is against the wall, and everything is up for grabs. This will be a good test for us.”
The Grizzlies, down 3-2 in the best-of-seven, will have to be ready for Game 6 on Friday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN) with much more enthusiasm and energy than they could summon for Game 5. Whether it was the product of a physical and emotional hangover from the triple-overtime Game 4 or a surge in confidence by the Thunder, for the first time in the series there was a clear difference between the two teams.
The Grizzlies insist that it’s not the Thunder defense that’s been the difference, but their own lack of aggressiveness at going to the basket and finishing. They missed 18 layups in Game 5
“We missed shots. I don’t think it’s nothing special they’re doing,” said Zach Randolph, who has shot just 22-for-69 in the last four games.
Through the first four games, the Grizzlies had actually outscored the Thunder by two cumulative points and dominated OKC on the offensive glass. But Game 5 was a complete collapse. Now the Grizzlies face the challenge of proving that they belong for the first time since the playoffs began a month ago.
Since they waltzed into San Antonio and used the magic of Battier delivering a clutch 3-pointer at virtually the same time that his wife Heidi was delivering their child 200 miles away in Houston, the Grizzlies have been living the free and easy life, always exceeding the expectations of a No. 8 seed, always staying ahead of the pressure.
The Grizzlies opened up a 3-1 lead on the No. 1 seeded Spurs in the first round and closed out the series in six games. Then they rolled right into Oklahoma City on 36 hours of rest and repeated their trick, knocking off the Thunder.
Now, for the first time since they became the grit and grind Cinderella darlings of the postseason, the Grizzlies are behind in a series.
Somebody suggested to Battier that the Grizzlies now face a two-game series for their playoff lives.
“It’s a one-game series for all intents and purposes,” Battier corrected. “We have to win [Friday night]. So it’s a one-game series. All we’re looking for is one win in a row.”