Zach Randolph bodied everybody Oklahoma City threw his way, and the Grizzlies' defense flustered Kevin Durant as Memphis advanced to the Western Conference Finals with a series-clinching 88-84 win in Game 5 on Wednesday. This is the Grizzlies' first trip to the conference finals in franchise history
Kevin Durant had the last chance for the Oklahoma City Thunder, but it just wasn't his night. After three shocking missed free throws by Randolph and a 30-footer by Reggie Jackson, Durant got the ball with an opportunity to tie. He shook Tony Allen and had a clean look at an 18-footer, but it wasn't on target, and after two Allen free throws, last year's Western Conference Champions were eliminated.
It was fitting after a game where Durant clanged incessantly. Although he ended up with 21 points, he was 5 for 21 from the field. The Grizzlies' defense harassed as violently as usual, and he got to the line 15 times. But the wear-and-tear still managed to lead to a generally inefficient evening for the three-time scoring champion.
Randolph was burly, banging and generally unstoppable. He had his best game of a postseason where his average has been spectacular, finishing with 28 points and 14 boards. The whole array was working: the drive right, followed by a spin left for a too-easy bucket, the high-arcing 20-footers, even some nifty moves off the dribble. He drew tons of fouls, getting to the line 16 times, but wouldn't miss until late.
Neither team shot particularly well -- the Grizzlies shot 30-for-81, the Thunder 31-for-84, with both teams under 25 percent from beyond the arc -- but Memphis got their advantage with a complete lack of turnovers: they only had nine turnovers for the game.
Things started out poorly for Memphis as Oklahoma City scored the first seven points of the game. But they'd chip back pretty quickly, going to their game-tested combo of Randolph and Marc Gasol, bringing the score to 9-9. A 6-0 run at the end of the period sparked by Durant's first bucket of the game would allow Oklahoma City to end the first quarter up, 23-18.
The lead was short-lived: back-to-back threes by Quincy Pondexter and Jerryd Bayless put Memphis up one quickly in the second period, and the teams would roughly trade buckets until it was 36-35, Grizzlies.
Durant would hit a midrange and get fouled by Tayshaun Prince for the opportunity to tie, but he missed the free throw, and then everything fell apart. They wouldn't hit a field goal for the rest of the half, as the Grizzlies would go on a 14-3 run fueled by Randolph finishes and free throws and steals. It was, 50-38, at the half, and Durant and the Thunder were staring down the end of their season.
A thunderous Prince dunk looked like it was goodnight for the Thunder's season, but things got weird: missed free throw by Durant ended up back in his hands, and he'd score. Next time down the court, Tony Allen would accidentally throw a towel onto the court while Derek Fisher was shooting the three, an occurrence that apparently leads to the basket counting, plus a technical foul. Much as the Thunder completely disappeared in the second quarter, the Grizzlies' offense fizzled, and a 16-4 run by Oklahoma City made the score 64-62 at the end of the period.
Memphis answered. A 12-2 run to start the period -- seven points courtesy of Randolph -- got the lead back into double digits. Two dunks by Serge Ibaka and a Derek Fisher corner three cut a late Grizzlies lead to five, but the Thunder would lose track of Tony Allen on the ensuing inbounds, and he'd streak to the basket for an and-1 layup.
After hitting his first 12 free throws of the night, Randolph would miss one with 12 seconds left, and Jackson would answer, drilling a 30-foot three to make the score 86-84.