OKLAHOMA CITY – One moment, Tony Allen‘s on the bench, ambitiously waving his towel above his head like he’s back at Oklahoma State in the Final Four or something. The next moment, he’s slinking into his chair as Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins glared at him and barked something at him as though Allen had just asked out the coach’s daughter.
“[I said the] same thing I said to him when he didn’t block out [Kevin] Durant on a shot,” Hollins said. “What the hell are you doing?!”
What in the world happened as the third quarter of Wednesday’s Game 5 wound down to five minutes to play, with Oklahoma City Thunder guard Derek Fisher shooting a corner 3-pointer in front of the Grizz bench and, out of nowhere, Allen’s blue warmup jersey fluttering five feet into the air and landing five feet out on the court?
“That never happened in my career. It was just a fluke incident,” Allen said, shaking his head. “It (the jersey) was tied up in the towel, and I knew it, but it just slipped. I saw it on the floor. I think I’m the only one that saw it because everybody else had their eyes …”
Allen, who had just subbed out of the game seconds earlier, stopped to sort through the surreal sequence.
“I don’t know, it was just a fluke play man,” Allen said. “I just thank God we were able to get out of here with a win.”
Had they not, and they almost did not, there’s no telling what Hollins might have done to his defensive bulldog who had defended Durant so well in helping lead the Grizzlies to a five-game, semifinal playoff victory over the top-seeded Thunder.
Memphis led 60-49 and was in seizing control of the game when Allen’s towel went haywire and spit out his warmup. Fisher’s 3-pointer missed, but the whistle blew the play dead with the foreign object resting on the floor. The ruling: OKC was awarded three points and a technical foul was assessed to Allen for interference. Durant made the free throw for a four-point play without an actual field goal being made.
Now it’s 60-53 and what was a subdued sellout crowd at Chesapeake Arena roared as the Thunder found sudden life.
End of the third quarter.
“Man, I thought when they made that run,” Allen said, “I was saying this is all my fault.”
He probably doesn’t want to know what Hollins was really thinking. When Hollins told reporters what he screamed at Allen, the room chuckled, seeing as all had ended well for the Grizz. But Hollins still didn’t smile and he offered a curt retort.
“That was huge. They counted the three points and then they got a free throw,” Hollins said. “That was a four-point play and from that point on we scored four more points in the quarter.”
Said Allen: “He was pretty upset and I can understand why. I shouldn’t do that as a veteran. It was just a bad play considering what was at stake. That could have come back and haunted us, but for the most part we’re a group that’s together and thank God that he didn’t scold me. But he did tell me to get my head out of my butt and get out there and keep playing.”
Memphis again gained control, going ahead 80-68 with 4:13 to go and the franchise’s first trip to the West finals nearing reality. Then the Thunder charged again.
“I just felt like if I get a chance to go back into this game I want to do something to help the team,” Allen said. “I don’t care what it is.”
And so with 3.3 seconds left in Game 5 and the Grizzlies up two, Allen, a career 74.1-percent career free throw shooter, went to the line for two. Either he ices it or he does the Thunder a second big favor and leaves them one last chance.
Bang and bang.
“Luckily, well not luckily,” Allen said, “thank God we were able to get out of here with a win.”