MEMPHIS — The Grizzlies were outrebounded and one of their key big men finished the game with eight points. Still, Memphis found other ways to pull out a gritty 87-81 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals at the Grindhouse.
1. At this point, Oklahoma City has to be frustrated.
The Thunder owned the paint, 44-30, and outrebounded the Grizzlies by seven (14-5 on the offensive end). The Thunder had 23 fastbreak points to Memphis’ seven. But the Grizzlies held the Thunder to 36 percent shooting and made necessary plays in the final seconds.
“They beat us in a lot of different areas. It just goes to show we’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Memphis point guard Mike Conley.
Marc Gasol continued his tear though. The Memphis center had 20 points — only four in the first half, but Zach Randolph had only eight with 10 rebounds. Neither big had a double-double. After back-to-back jumpers from Gasol in the third, he jawed at Kendrick Perkins, who recently tweeted his displeasure that Gasol was named Defensive Player of the Year instead of Thunder teammate Serge Ibaka.
Gasol’s patented one-hander over Ibaka with time running out in the third gave Memphis a 66-57 lead. Gasol picked up his fourth foul with 4:20 left in the third but stayed in the game.
“I feel like every game we’ve gotten better and today we were not better than the last game,” Gasol said. “We had too many breakdowns defensively. We’ve got to be better than that to win the series.”
Game 4 is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. ET here Monday, where the Grizzlies are 4-0 this postseason, but still trying for their first Western Conference finals appearance. Memphis is 18-1 at home in the last three months.
2. The Thunder need an offensive boost from someone other than Durant.
Oklahoma City needs points. Ibaka needs to score those points. The Thunder forward scored 13 in Game 3 — but on 6 of 17 shooting.
Kevin Durant had a game-high 25 and played nearly 46 minutes. But that was eight below his playoff-high average and if he doesn’t get all of those, OKC is in trouble with Russell Westbrook sidelined.
Ibaka had 10 boards and blocked four shots while keeping Randolph in check, but he also missed a pair of dunks and some easy looks.
Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said he won’t go away from Ibaka. Durant said he won’t stop passing him the ball. Durant said Ibaka’s spirits were down after the game and he would try and lift him up.
“He has to continue to fight through. We’re going to stay with him,” Brooks said. “We’re going to work through some of the offense where he gets these same good looks and he’s going to have to step up and make them. He works and he believes in the work that he does and our guys believe in him.”
Reggie Jackson had 16 points and 10 rebounds but the go-to-guy, Durant, clanked a pair of free throws with 39.3 seconds left in the game. It could have gotten the Thunder within two points. Durant got a steal, but Derek Fisher missed from deep and Conley secured Game 3 with two free throws.
OKC starters Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha combined for 0-for-8 shooting and four points and seven rebounds.
3. The Grizzlies’ grit was the difference in the end.
Oklahoma City hasn’t scored a point in the last 4 1/2 minutes of the last two games, both Memphis wins.
“Defense in the fourth quarter. That’s what wins games. We understand that,” Conley said. “And that’s where we hang our hat.”
The Thunder never led after Gasol’s fade-away jumper with 9:25 left in the third quarter. Ibaka cut it to one with 8:11 to play, but Jerryd Bayless answered with a 3.
Derek Fisher tied it at 81 with a 3-pointer with 1:58 to play and the Thunder had a chance to take the lead after Jackson’s steal on the other end. But Conley squared up and took a charge from Jackson.
Memphis went in to Gasol with the shot clock running down on the other end and he hit a pair of free throws — 8-for-9 in the game — for an 83-81 lead with 1:03 to play. Durant missed a shot to tie and Conley made two more free throws. The Grizzlies improved their free-throw shooting from the first two games, making 23 of 28 in Game 3. Conley made all seven of his attempts. The Thunder hit 12 of 19. Durant was 5-for-9 at the stripe.
Conley had 14 points, seven boards and six assists and is averaging playoff career highs in all three categories.