In case the thrill of playoff basketball had escaped you, the Grizzlies and Thunder did their damnedest to remind you of it Monday. Capped by a series of clutch shots and timely stops, Memphis outlasted Oklahoma City 111-105 in overtime to win Game 2 and even their first-round series 1-1.
• The Grizzlies will grit-and-grind you to rubble. I wouldn't want to be caught in isolation against LeBron James or standing in the key near a soaring Blake Griffin or trying to break a press against an angry Patrick Beverley. And I most certainly would not want to be in a seven-game series with the Grizzlies. The NBA's closest thing to a bully, the Grizzlies make your life miserable on the floor. They're bruising on both ends, manically methodical on offense and masters of getting you out of your comfort zone. They have big bodies that clog the paint and protect the rim and pesky perimeter defenders prone to getting inside your shirt -- and often, your head.
Bullies don't carry an undefeated record. The Grizzlies had no answer for Kevin Durant and the Thunder in Game 1. But they are persistent, even relentless, which is exactly what Memphis was Monday.
The Grizzlies jumped out to an eight-point lead in the first quarter and held the lead most of the game, thwarting the Thunder's every attrack. Every time Durant or Russell Westbrook drained an improbable shot down the stretch -- and there were plenty -- Memphis found the fortitude to respond with an equally critical basket, hushing a deafening crowd at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Memphis endured Durant's sensational four-point play (below) late in the fourth. They survived Durant's subsequent two-handed dunk that capped OKC's nine-point comeback in the final period. They even came back after Kendrick Perkins (!) made a buzzer-beating putback to send the game into overtime. And they held on for the win in spite of Durant draining a three-pointer with just over a minute left in OT to cut the lead to one.
There's a reason the Grizzlies possess the "grit-and-grind" catchphrase, an awesome alliteration (see what I did there?) but an even more awesome description of how the team plays. They don't fold at the first signs of adversity. They embrace it. On Monday, they flourished in it, combining with the Thunder to produce one of the most entertaining finishes of the season and a victory that evened the series.
Memphis got contributions up and down its roster, but mainly from two names at the top: Zach Randolph and Mike Conley. Z-Bo finished with 25 points and scored with 26 seconds remaining in OT to put the Grizzlies up two, while Conley brilliantly paced Memphis' offense the entire game, finishing with 19 points, 12 assists and six rebounds.
As impressive as Memphis' offense was in Game 2, topping the century mark for the sixth time in nine games, its defense was even better. If it's possible to look bad while scoring 36 points, the Grizzlies managed to hold Durant to such a performance (12-of-28 from the field) Monday. Westbrook was great at times, but flustered at others, shooting 11-of-28 and finishing with 29 poins. Overall, Oklahoma City shot just 39.7 percent from the field and managed just six points in extra time.
Now the series shifts to Memphis for two games at "The Grindhouse," a trip Durant and Co. certainly can't be looking forward to after Monday.
Said Tony Allen of the newly squared series ''Basically it's just going to be a slugfest."
• Grizzlies' biggest X-Factor: ... Beno Udrih? Beno Udrih's rise to 2014 NBA playoff contributor is about as unlikely as they come. For starters, Udrih was a Knick for most of the season, damaging his chances at being a playoff anything. Fed up with his lack of playing time in New York, Udrih eventually forced his release, leading him to sign with the Grizzlies. But Memphis was by no means a lock to make the playoffs, clinching the No. 7 seed on the final day of the season, and Udrih was no rotation player either, buried behind Mike Conley and Nick Calathes in the point-guard depth chart.
Enter Calathes' 20-game suspension from the NBA, a blow to the Grizz's depth, but a glimmer of hope for Udrih. On Monday, Udrih played his most minutes in a Grizzlies jersey and his most overall since January, coming off the bench to hit 6-of-8 shots and score 14 points in 14 minutes. He added three rebounds and two assists and gave Memphis' offense some life while the starting backcourt took a breather.
The Thunder were not given such a luxury. In fact, Udrih scored as many points as Oklahoma City's entire bench combined.
Production like Udrih's won't go unnoticed in Memphis, likely leading to more chances for the 10th-year veteran. Udrih failed to get along with Mike Woodson, who was fired Monday, in New York and establish a regular role in the rotation, but he could carve out a nice niche for himself in Memphis if the opportunity remains open and the shots keep falling.
• Russell Westbrook is mind-blowing -- in both a good and a bad way. To play -- and dress -- like Russell Westbrook takes a man of great confidence. This is a man who averaged more shots per game than last season than his teammate that has led the league in scoring four of the last five years. But that's the kind of bravado with which Westbrook operates. It's what makes him so effective, combining his unique blend of talent and courage to dart into the lane and finish at the rim like few are capable of.
It's also what can make him completely maddeningly, leading to head-scratching incidents like there were in Game 2.
Wesbrook finished with 29 points on 28 shots. At times, he was jaw-dropped, like on this dunk in the fourth quarter during the Thunder's comeback rally:
At other times, he was infuriating, missing his last four shots of the game and going 1-of-7 from the three-point line. With Westbrook you're forced to live with the good and bad. Monday provided a little bit of the both for the Thunder, but too much of the latter.
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