MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Thunder offense collapsed late. But this time, it had company. The Thunder defense collapsed earlier, and now the Thunder is on the verge of collapse.
In a game that NBA history says the Thunder had to have, the Boomers squandered a 17-point second-quarter lead, a 12-point third-quarter lead and lost 103-97 in overtime Monday night to the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Griz now lead this Western Conference semifinal series three games to one. Only eight of 194 teams that have been down 3-1 have advanced.
But this series seemed headed back to Oklahoma City 2-2. The Thunder offense finally was clicking — welcome back, Serge Ibaka; nice going, Kevin Martin — and the Grizzlies aren't exactly the Houston Rockets when it comes to comebacks.
But after Kevin Durant's 3-pointer gave the Thunder a 46-29 lead with 4:26 left in the second quarter, the Grizzlies suddenly started scoring like the '62 Celtics.
Memphis scored 19 points on its last nine possessions of the second quarter, and halftime proved no salve.
On its first 20 possessions of the third quarter, the Grizzlies scored 28 points. So that was a string of 47 points in 29 possessions.
Memphis got going with foul shots, then started making baskets. In those 16 minutes, Marc Gasol scored 15 points.
Scotty Brooks tried all kinds of things — he started Serge Ibaka on Gasol, shifting Kendrick Perkins over to Zach Randolph; Brooks also used a small lineup a good portion of the game — and the Thunder defense was solid for most of the game.
But those 16 minutes felled the Thunder.
Play typical defense in this series, when both teams are having trouble scoring, and the Grizzlies would have been hard-pressed to get back in this one.
Memphis shot just 40.4 percent from the field for the game. But in those 16 minutes, the Grizzlies made 16 of 26 shots.
By third quarter's end, Memphis had caught the Thunder, and it was back to the grit-and-grind basketball that has defined this series and at which Memphis excels.
Ibaka was superb much of the game; he had 13 points and 10 rebounds in the first half alone and found his shooting touch, which had disappeared. Martin was good, too.
But Memphis doesn't let any offense look good for long.
So at crunch time, expecting to deliver winning offense is dicey.
In this same situation two years ago — down 2-1 at Memphis in the West semifinals — the Thunder won an epic three-overtime game.
But Durant that night had help from names that now are gone. James Harden, gone to Houston, and Russell Westbrook, gone to injury.
This Thunder team, at least against Memphis, can't rely on offensive heroics to win. It must win with defense.
And the defense disappeared for too long in Game 4, and now the Thunder season is in serious jeopardy.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.