With their offense struggling and a seven-point lead gone after a Derek Fisher three, the Memphis Grizzlies stepped up in the final two minutes of their 87-81 Game 3 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Grizzlies finished the game on a 6-0 run, with all six points coming from the free throw line.
As it has all season, the Memphis defense came through, doing an especially good job on Kevin Durant, who scored just two points in the fourth quarter. Durant took just one shot in the final two minutes. Durant played 46 minutes and faced a lot of defensive attention, but both he and Thunder head coach Scott Brooks brushed off those excuses.
"The decision to play Kevin a lot of minutes is easy. He's a good player," Brooks said. "He had plenty of rest. Lot of timeouts. So it wasn't a factor. His energy was good. We didn't make shots."
However, there may be something to the fatigue factor, especially considering Durant's defensive assignment in the fourth quarter.
Brooks elected to play small for most of the fourth quarter, and Durant found himself covering the bigger Marc Gasol. Durant did do an admirable job against Gasol, limiting him to just four points in the quarter, but those four points were key.
With just under three minutes left, Gasol went in the post and made a running hook shot over Durant. After the Thunder had tied the game, the Grizzlies went back to Gasol on the block, where he beat Durant and was able to draw a foul from Serge Ibaka. The two made free throws proved to be the game-winners.
But more than that, Durant being forced to battle Gasol in the paint may have affected his offensive performance just as much as Tony Allen's stifling defense. Durant and Brooks did not admit that, but it's certainly something that has to be taken into account, especially considering those missed free throws.
Much was made about the decision to trade Rudy Gay, with critics of the deal asking who the Grizzlies would look to down the stretch of close games. In the last two contests, a mixture of Gasol, Conley and defense has done the trick when things have gotten tough late in games. Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins was impressed with his team's poise under pressure.
"You can't have any success without any adversity," Hollins said. "You can't learn about yourself without adversity."
Who knows how far Memphis can go with this group, but right now, what they are doing is working.
Quotes via NBA.com.
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