Before the referee tossed the basketball into the air tipping off Game 3, there was talk among observers – fans and professional prognosticators – that it was the biggest game in Memphis basketball history. Before the referee tossed the basketball into the air tipping off Game 3, there was talk among observers – fans and professional prognosticators – that it was the biggest game in Memphis basketball history.
| Sam Young is the “we-believe” centerpiece in a picture of celebration. (Photos by Warren Roseborough)|
| Tony Allen and the Grizz put a defensive blanket on the Thunder that smothered the OKC defense in the fourth quarter and overtime. Memphis leads the series, two games to one.|
| O.J. Mayo’s aggressive play helped drive a second-half comeback that saw the Grizz overcome a 13-point fourth quarter deficit and win in OT. |
| Mike Conley turned up his game in the second half and with victory in sight, Zach Randolph told him what he thinks.|
| Zach Randolph’s family had his back in Game 3 as the Memphis Grizzlies pulled off a spellbinding comeback, downing the Oklahoma City Thunder 101-93.|
Final score: Memphis 101, Oklahoma City 93 in overtime.
The Grizz now lead the Western Conference semifinals series two games to one, with Game 4 on Monday at the FedExForum.
For much of Game 3, a victory for the Grizz seemed a most unlikely outcome. And when the Thunder lead grew to 16 in the second half, every fiber of the Grizzlies’ “we-believe” playoff focus was put to the test.
During his post-game assessment, Grizz head coach Lionel Hollins used the M-word – miraculous – to help put the comeback into context. It was a miracle constructed with a series of moves orchestrated by Hollins and executed by players with plenty of resolve.
Count O.J. Mayo among them. He was a game-changer. He scored his postseason-best 18 points, with six rebounds and four assists.
Memphis’ off-the-bench scoring fireplug, Mayo was inserted into the lineup that started the second half with the Grizzlies trailing. He played a total of nearly 42 minutes and his defense – along with the defense of Tony Allen on Thunder star Kevin Durant – was pivotal.
Hollins gave Mayo the task of guarding Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook, whose size was a mismatch problem for Grizz starting point guard Mike Conley most of the game.
“In the third quarter he (Coach Hollins) wanted to give me a little blow,” said Mayo. “I told him I was still good.”
Mayo’s Game 3 mindset took root in the previous game, a loss for the Grizz in Oklahoma City.
“I was a little upset in Game 2 because I just wasn’t aggressive when I came in in the first half, and in the third quarter I was aggressive and it kind of gave our team a spark,” Mayo said. “I saw that. So tonight when I got my chance I wanted to come out the gate, be aggressive offensively, generate energy defensively and play a great game.”
His determination was noticed.
“O.J. (Mayo) did a great job of coming in the second half and gave us great minutes and played great defense down the stretch,” Conley said. “We had guys step up, and that’s what we needed to win.”
If it’s possible for coaches to step up their “games,” then Hollins was proof in motion. In addition to the Mayo move, he at one point turned to the little-used seven-footer, Hamed Haddadi, who delivered with a string of strong plays for which OKC hadn’t prepared, opening the door for Mayo to score.
Hollins also crafted a small line-up – Shane Battier, Darrell Arthur, Allen, Mayo and Conley – that was a difference-maker
“When I came back with the big guys, they just continued right on with the effort at that point,” Hollins said. “I thought that was the real difference. We got aggressive. We started doing everything better.”
Down by 13 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Grizzlies came out with defense as job No. 1. With Grizz nation in tow, Memphis outscored the Thunder 23-10 to force the overtime, which Memphis controlled from the opening tap.
Down the stretch, Durant, the league’s leading scorer for the second consecutive year, did not get the touches that a force of his magnitude would be expected to get.
“Kevin (Durant) is one of our best players and he has to be able to get touches and they (Grizzlies) did a good job,” said Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks.
“They were not only clogging the paint, they were having guys, multiple defenders on him. Tony Allen does a good job on him. We have to figure out ways to attack that and make plays when he does get double-teamed.”
Durant said he has to start back getting to the foul line.
“I’ve got to continue to keep attacking,” Durant said. “They did a great job of closing the paint and I never did see the lane. I just have to adjust.”
Westbrook led OKC with 23 points and his playoff-high 12 assists, while Durant tallied 22 points and 12 rebounds, with no free throws.
Zach Randolph led Memphis with 21 points and his 2011 postseason-high 21 rebounds, his fifth double-double of the postseason.