Coming into the NBA Playoffs series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies, the foul line figured to have a big impact. The Thunder were tops in the league in free throw rate, thanks to the aggressive styles of play Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant provide. Memphis was a middle-of-the-pack team in foul rate this season; they didn't avoid fouls at all costs like spiritual ancestor San Antonio, but didn't hack like a Jerry Sloan team, either.
Sure enough, fouls played a huge role in Monday's Game 4 triple-overtime thriller between the Thunder and Grizzlies. Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins used Tony Allen sparingly, reserving his fouls for late-game defense of Durant. O.J. Mayo and Mike Conley, two of Memphis' three perimeter ballhandlers and two of about four healthy three-point shooters, both fouled out in the first overtime. That left Hollins relying on rookie Greivis Vasquez. Luckily, Vasquez came up big.
Durant ended up with 18 free throws, and nearly half (16) of his 35 points came from the line. Westbrook took 11 free throws and James Harden -- who received huge minutes (49) off the bench -- earned 10.
It's interesting to note that the Memphis guards were the ones picking up foul trouble, not the big men. That's a nice consolation for the Grizzlies; had Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol been hit with foul trouble, Memphis would never have made it to overtime, let alone three of them.