The Thunder and Memphis staged another battle royale in a series that is becoming epic in NBA annals. Four straight overtime games. The Grizzlies won Game 5 100-99 on Thursday night, leads the series 3-2 and has the Thunder on the brink of colossal disappointment.
And simply put, the Thunder is worn out. Not worn out physically, necessarily, though trying to keep Zach Randolph away from the basket and trying to get through Tony Allen to get to the basket will wear out the great of physical specimens.
The Thunder is worn out mentally, and not just from the grind of playing the Grizzlies. The Thunder is worn out from the grind of being behind.
The Thunder led the Grizzlies for awhile in Game 5. Awhile being 20 seconds. Think about that. The Thunder just played a game that went overtime, was a nail-biter at the end of regulation and throughout overtime, yet OKC led just once, 79-78, for 20 seconds.
And that is not out of the ordinary.
In Game 2, the Thunder’s biggest lead was two. The Thunder had the lead for 2:02 of the game’s 53 minutes. Memphis had the lead for 44:03, leading by as many as 10. The Thunder played from behind all game long.
In Game 3, the Thunder’s biggest lead was four. The Thunder had the lead for 5:21 of the game’s 53 minutes. Memphis had the lead for 41:35, leading by as many as 17.
In Game 5, the Thunder’s biggest lead was one. The Thunder had the lead for 20 seconds of the game’s 53 minutes. Memphis had the lead for 50:29. Think about that for a moment. The Thunder was behind in Game 5 for longer than the duration of a regulation game.
In Games 1 and 4, the Thunder controlled much of the game. In Game 4, the Thunder led for 34:14 and led by as many as 14. Memphis’ biggest lead was five, and the Grizzlies led for 9:25. The Thunder led Game 1, the only non-overtime, for all but the first 15 seconds, though the Grizzlies at least made it interesting for awhile.
But go back. Four straight overtime games, and the Grizzlies have dominated three of them. Memphis deserves to have won three of the four.
And the effects on the Thunder is obvious. Playing from behind is mentally taxing. It will wear you out. The constant pressure to score or get a stop, just so you can cut into the lead or mount a rally. There is a freedom from playing ahead. The Thunder has enjoyed that freedom far too little.
Since the start of Game 2, these teams have played 212 minutes. And Memphis has led, often by a comfortable margin, for 146:32 of that time. The Thunder has led for just 41:57, less time than the Grizzlies have led in two of the games alone.
The Thunder already is playing under the burden of great expectations. As Derek Fisher said the other day, “This is our time.” At least that’s what everyone thought. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have entered their prime. This team is mature. It is time to win. Except here’s Memphis standing in the way and showing no signs of standing down.
And on top of that pressure, the Thunder has dug holes. Huge deficits in Games 3 and 5. Serious trouble in the final minute or so of every regulation. Overtime problems.
Truth is, it’s hard for a team to hold up under that kind of pressure. Playing from in front is a blessing. The Thunder has had that blessing very little against Memphis. And the cracks are starting to show.