By Teresa M. Walker
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) The Memphis Grizzlies are finding a little desperation can carry them a long way.
How far? That remains to be seen, but they sure keep finding ways to win.
Zach Randolph had 21 points and a franchise-record 21 rebounds, and the Grizzlies rallied from a 16-point deficit to stun the Oklahoma City Thunder 101-93 in overtime Saturday and grab a 2-1 lead in their Western Conference semifinal.
The Grizzlies are trying to do something no NBA team has done in climbing from the No. 8 seed all the way to the Western Conference finals. They moved two wins away from that by remaining undefeated on their home court this postseason.
Memphis coach Lionel Hollins knows his Grizzlies were fortunate, but says that’s the NBA playoffs.
“In order to go further, you always have to be in games where you’ve got to do something miraculous in order to win the game,” Hollins said. “I thought this was miraculous the way we fought back after being down 16, and it was a super win. And like I said, by the grace of God we were fortunate to come out on top.”
The Grizzlies did it with an amazing comeback in a game they couldn’t have looked more out of synch or rusty early, but scored the first six points of overtime to finish off the victory. Guard Mike Conley said the Grizzlies just didn’t come with effort the first three quarters.
“I think once we looked up at the clock and saw how many points we were down, a little bit of desperation hit,” Conley said. “We were like, ‘Man, we cannot lose this game.’ And guys amped up their game, made some changes here and there, and we were able to just be scrappy and play our game, and fortunately we got the win.”
Kevin Durant, the NBA’s scoring leader in the regular season and these playoffs, took only three shots in overtime and missed them all. He finished with 22 points, his lowest this postseason after averaging 31.6 points coming in. He also attempted only one free throw, which he missed. Durant groaned heavily as he walked away after talking with reporters.
“This is a tough loss,” Durant said. “I’m trying to stay positive, but it was tough. This was tough. We were up 13 going into the fourth, had a good roll going. It was tough.”
O.J. Mayo had 18 points off the bench. Conley also scored 18, Marc Gasol had 16 and Tony Allen 10.
Russell Westbrook had 23 points and 12 assists, but committed five of his seven turnovers after the third quarter before fouling out late in overtime for the Thunder. Serge Ibaka had 14 points and James Harden 12.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said the Thunder played the way they wanted for three quarters.
“And we stopped doing it,” Brooks said. “The last seven or eight minutes, we just stopped doing it, and we gave into their play. I give them credit. They really stepped up and got into us and made us take tough shots.”
Some of the credit for the Memphis comeback can go to Hollins switching to a small lineup in the second half, trying something different with Oklahoma City packing the paint to contain Randolph and Gasol. Hollins told his smaller Grizzlies that those big men had carried them to this point and that the time had come for the perimeter players to step up.
Hollins went with Shane Battier, Allen, Mayo, Conley and Darrell Arthur for a stretch with Randolph and Gasol on the bench.
“Our guards took that challenge and were just aggressive,” Mayo said.
Mayo switched onto Westbrook, who hit 5 of 16 after halftime, and gave Conley the chance to rest a bit defensively. Mayo knows Westbrook well from having played against him for several years and also working out together in the offseason. Mayo was able to keep Westbrook off some of his favorite shooting spots on the floor.
“I just wanted to use my size and my strength a little bit, and whenever he rose up to shoot the jumper, just contest…,” Mayo said. “I just made it a little difficult for him.
Conley said that gave him more energy and strength in his legs for offense. The guard had 10 points after the third quarter.
Randolph said every time he touched the ball in the first half, he found three defenders on him. He credits Mayo as the player of the game.
“The guy did great on Westbrook. He took it upon himself to guard Westbrook, and he did a great job,” Randolph said
Oklahoma City was up 70-54 on Kendrick Perkins’ tip-in with 3:53 left in the third and seemed in control with Westbrook scoring 13 points in the period.
Memphis erased that lead with a 13-2 run and outscored Oklahoma City 23-10 in the fourth quarter, then 15-7 in overtime. The Thunder hit just 3 of 12 in the extra period.
With the score tied at 86, both teams had a chance to win in regulation.
Brooks took a timeout with 18 seconds to go, having to holler to get referee Ken Mauer’s attention in the roaring FedExForum. Durant missed a 20-footer off the back rim as the shot clock buzzer sounded with 4 seconds left, but Randolph’s own 3 for the win clanked off the rim at the buzzer.
Memphis took over in overtime. First, Allen drove for a layup, then Conley scored on a layup. Allen then hit two free throws for a 92-86 lead with 2:56 left. The Grizzlies polished the win off at the free throw line, hitting 9 of 12.
That left the Thunder thinking of what could have been.
“We controlled that whole game,” Thunder guard James Harden said. “We just let one slip away.”
Now their focus turns to Game 4 on Monday night.
“The quicker we can get over it and realize that we need to win one game here and we can still do that the better,” Thunder forward Nick Collison said. “If we win Game 4, then we’ll still be in good shape. As disappointing as it is, we need to get over it quickly and be ready to play in Game 4.”
The Grizzlies, coming off a three-day layoff that was their longest break in a couple weeks, didn’t give their sellout crowd much to cheer until late.
Oklahoma City scored the first five points, and the Thunder did what worked so well Tuesday night by collapsing whenever Memphis tried to pass the ball into the paint.
Memphis led 28-24 when the Thunder went on a 16-3 run and grabbed a 40-31 lead on a pair of free throws by Westbrook. Oklahoma City outscored Memphis 31-21 in the quarter and led 51-43 at halftime.
Conley didn’t score until 4:45 left in the first half on a fast-break layup.
NOTES: The Grizzlies had played in May only twice previously, and they were eliminated from the postseason in both games. Phoenix handled the honors May 1, 2005, and Dallas ended the Grizzlies’ season May 1, 2006. … The Grizzlies were 2-5 in overtime games in the regular season and now are 1-1 this postseason. … Memphis won despite shooting under 40 percent (37.8 percent) for the first time since Dec. 13, 2010, against Portland. … This was Memphis’ 11th come from behind victory this season and second in the playoffs trailing by 10 or more points in the second half.
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