MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Crunch time is costing the Thunder.
After three straight cracks at clearing that hurdle, it's becoming increasingly clear that Oklahoma City, playing without its All-Star point guard and against a determined and ferociously defensive bunch, just might not have what it takes.
And the Memphis Grizzlies are capitalizing.
The Thunder fell 103-97 in overtime of Game 4 on Monday night inside FedExForum, a loss that put Oklahoma City on the brink of elimination.
Memphis took a 3-1 series lead and moved one win away from advancing to its first conference finals in franchise history.
Game 5, perhaps the final game of the Thunder's season, is Wednesday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“I thought our guys did everything they possibly could do to put themselves in position to win this game,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “Unfortunately, we came up a little bit short.”
Kevin Durant scored a game-high 27 points with seven rebounds and seven assists. But for the third straight game he struggled down the stretch. He was 0-for-5 in overtime and scored just five points on 2-for-13 shooting in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Unlike the two previous contests, however, Durant received plenty of help this time.
Four other Thunder players scored in double figures. Kevin Martin had 18 points off the bench, Reggie Jackson scored 15 points with eight assists and Nick Collison chipped in 10 points before fouling out in 22 minutes.
Serge Ibaka was as good as anyone, bouncing back wonderfully from a woeful Game 3 and supplying his best game of the series. Ibaka finished with 17 points, a game-high 14 rebounds and three blocked shots in 37 minutes.
But on this night, Memphis was just much too much.
Mike Conley led the Grizzlies with 24 points, and Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph scored 23 points apiece for Memphis.
“We're not the most talented team in the playoffs,” said Memphis coach Lionel Hollins. “But we go out and try to compete.”
The final two minutes of regulation gave Memphis enough momentum to go on and seal the deal.
The Grizzlies grabbed three offensive rebounds in the final 90 seconds, helping them secure a lead before Durant converted a driving layup to tie game with 6.4 seconds remaining in regulation.
Kendrick Perkins, who was summoned off the bench when Collison fouled out, saved the Thunder from losing on a potential buzzer-beater when he blocked a 17-foot jump shot by Randolph at the buzzer.
“We knew going into this that we would compete against a team that competes as hard,” Brooks said. “I wish we could've got a win or two. But there's now reason to put your head down and cry. Unfortunately, we can make a play or two here much better.”
The Thunder took a 29-18 lead after the first quarter. It was the most OKC has scored in a period since the second quarter of Game 2. The offense clicked because the same role players who have largely struggled so far in this series started to sizzle.
Ibaka made three of his first five shots and scored nine points with seven rebounds in the opening period. Jackson made all three of his first-quarter shot attempts and chipped in seven in the frame. The Thunder made 10 of 18 from the field in the quarter and scored six points in transition, as many as it had in Game 1 and one fewer than Game 2.
“They came out firing,” said Hollins.
The Thunder's lead soon swelled to as many as 17 with 4 1/2 minutes remaining in the second quarter. But the Grizzlies ended the half on a 19-10 run to cut the deficit to eight at halftime. Grizzlies guard Jerryd Bayless capped the flurry with two 3-pointers in the final minute.
Memphis cut it to 72-70 on a jumper by Gasol, and Gasol then tied it at 72-all on a pair of free throws.
It was nip-and-tuck from there.
The final nine minutes were as nail-biting as expected. There were nine lead changes over that span, and neither team lead by more than three. It was an 89-86 advantage held by the Thunder with four minutes left in regulation.
Durant split a pair of free throws with 1:48 remaining in regulation. But the Thunder couldn't close in crunch time because poor defensive rebounding again reared its ugly head.
The Grizzlies grabbed two offensive rebounds on their next possession, and watched the trip end with Randolph making one of two foul shots to put Memphis up 93-92. Durant appeared to get fouled on the next Thunder possession, but the officials didn't call Randolph for reaching in on Durant's arm as he went up for a shot with 41.9 seconds remaining.
Memphis then secured yet another offensive rebound after a missed 3-pointer by Bayless. Conley corralled this one and eventually got it to Gasol, who then converted one of two free throws to push the Grizzlies' lead to 94-92.
The Thunder allowed 13 offensive rebounds, which led to 21 Grizzlies second-chance points.
“We could have done a much better job there.”
The Thunder will have at least one more chance.
“It's not over yet,” Brooks said. “They're in a good position, but our challenge is not impossible.