- Series hub: Grizzlies-Thunder
“We all remember that game,” said Memphis point guard Mike Conley, whose team finds itself in the same position tonight entering Game 4 at home with a 2-1 semifinal series lead. “We know how big it is, how it can turn a series. We remember the way they came back to win.”
Conley watched the final two overtimes of that critical, heart-thumping loss dejectedly from the bench after fouling out. He acknowledged that he had already been looking ahead. The day before, the Dallas Mavericks advanced to the West finals with a sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers.
“We had played Dallas well and we were thinking if we can get by Oklahoma City,” said Conley, then just a 23-year-old reveling in his first postseason. “So we were getting ahead of ourselves.”
Rudy Gay was injured and not playing for Memphis in that series. Oklahoma City is grinding out this low-scoring series with two key components gone: James Harden obviously is now an All-Star with the Houston Rockets, and Russell Westbrook, who scored 40 points in the triple-OT win two years ago, is out with a knee injury.
His absence hasn’t diminished the competitiveness of the series. All three games have been up for grabs in the final three minutes. In Game 3, Memphis nearly coughed up the homecourt edge it seized with its Game 2 win at OKC by losing an early nine-point cushion in the fourth quarter and then seeing a 79-73 lead with 4:19 to go evaporate to an 81-81 tie with 1:58 left.
“We were in this situation two years ago and they came in here and tied it up,” Zach Randolph said. “So we’ve got to come out and play better as a team and make adjustments.”
Applying a foot to the throat of an opponent on their home floor would be an adjustment the Grizz would love to make. They couldn’t do it against OKC in 2011. Last year they blew a 27-point lead with an abysmal fourth quarter and lost Game 1 in the first round to the Los Angeles Clippers, and then ducked out of the series in Game 7 with another awful final period.
Maybe the killer instinct is evolving. Memphis won Games 3 and 4 last round against the Clippers to tie it up and then closed it out at home in Game 6. A win tonight would put the Grizzlies in position to eliminate the Thunder in Game 5 on Wednesday and catch a rest while the San Antonio-Golden State series is set to go at least six games.
“We’re taking it one day at a time, that’s been the motto since Day 1,” Tony Allen said. “We’re not looking back towards [two years ago]. We’re thinking about what’s now, what’s ahead. The better we’re focused, the more we can be engaged of what they’re trying to do, looking at their adjustments, the better we are.”
Marc Gasol, taking nothing for granted, said: ”The series is just starting.”