The Thunder is in peril as Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals arrive Monday night. But is the Thunder in any worse shape than against Memphis in the 2011 West semis?
The Thunder is down two games to one and struggling to find offense. There’s not much optimism outside the Thunder circle that OKC can survive this series, and the optimism you hear from the Thunder camp could be suspect. Except the Thunder veterans have been down this road before.
The Grizzlies led the Thunder 2-1 after three games in 2011. A loss in Game 4 figured to sink the Thunder.
A couple of differences, of course. Memphis is better now, and the Thunder would be. That Thunder team was a four-seed; that Memphis team was an eight-seed that had just upset San Antonio. This Thunder team is a one-seed, albeit playing without Russell Westbrook. This Memphis team is a five-seed but won 56 games, which is more than OKC won (55) in 2011.
This series is much more defensive. The Grizzlies ostensibly were a good defensive team in 2011, but nothing like they are now.
In Game 1 in 2011, the Grizzlies stunned OKC 114-101 in a game that didn’t seem that close. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol combined for 54 points on 21 of 33 shooting. It appeared the Thunder had little answer for the Memphis big men.
In Game 2, the Thunder beat the Grizzlies 111-102, taking a 54-44 halftime lead and eventually blowing to a big lead and coasting. So OKC had a reasonable amount of optimism going to Memphis.
But in Game 3, the Thunder blew a 16-point lead in the third quarter, an 11-point lead with 7:40 left and allowed the Grizzlies to force overtime. Which Memphis dominated and won 101-93.
Which brought up Game 4. One of the most memorable games in Thunder history. Or NBA playoff history, for that matter.
The Grizzlies roared to an 8-0 lead and was up 37-19 with 8:20 left in the second quarter. But the Thunder climbed back. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden combined to make 11 of 12 foul shots in the final 3:20 of the half and got within 53-49 at halftime.
Then the Thunder played great, taking a 90-80 lead with 5:25 left. Durant made two foul shots with 1:56 left to take a 96-89 lead. But down the stretch, the Thunder missed all four of its shots (including one by Daequan Cook), Kendrick Perkins missed two foul shots and Mike Conley threw in a 26-foot 3-pointer with 3.5 seconds left to a game that was just getting started.
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