Thunder push Grizzlies to brink of elimination
The Memphis Grizzlies couldn't be more upset - at themselves.
All their anger is pointed at their own missed shots, lackluster play and the missed opportunity that now has them playing from behind for the first time this postseason.
Now coach Lionel Hollins is curious to see how they react.
Guard Mike Conley said Thursday the coach warned his Grizzlies this is their first real adversity during these playoffs. Memphis now has lost two straight, including a 99-72 blowout in Oklahoma City on Wednesday night that put the Thunder up 3-2 in this Western Conference semifinal.
This is the first time this postseason Memphis has lost two straight, including a 99-72 blowout in Oklahoma City on Wednesday night that put the Thunder up 3-2 in this Western Conference semifinal. Game 6 is Friday night in Memphis with the Grizzlies trying to avoid elimination and force Game 7 back in Oklahoma City on Sunday.
''He says this is where we find out who we are,'' Conley said. ''Find out the kind of people we are. The kind of players we are. You don't know until your back is against the wall, and everything is up for grabs. This will be a good test for us.''
Hollins said this series now is just one game. He also noted his Grizzlies missed 18 layups Wednesday night.
''Come on. That's not us ,'' Hollins said. ''We make half of those layups, that's 18 points. It's still there for us. It's not over. We just have to believe. We don't have to listen to anybody outside and what they say in their analysis of the series. We just have to go out there and play.''
Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks gave his Thunder the day off Thursday, though players came in to watch film, get treatment, lift weights or shoot on their own. Russell Westbrook did just that, getting on the court with assistant coach Maurice Cheeks.
The Thunder now are a win away from their first Western finals since 1996 when the then-Seattle SuperSonics beat Utah in seven games before losing to Chicago in the NBA finals. Brooks said they know the FedExForum will be very challenging even though they won there Monday night in triple overtime.
''The close-out game in basketball is the hardest game to play because they're going to give everything they have, and their crowd is going to get behind them,'' Brook said. ''And we just have to really be able to maintain our composure and play through everything and just play with force and play together.''
Oklahoma City survived early turnovers Wednesday night and settled down so well that starters like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook got to rest with neither playing more than 31 minutes. Brooks emptied his bench late, though some Thunder started throwing up some 3-pointers late even with a big lead.
''We must be focused on Game 6 and what we need to do to get better,'' Durant said after the big win.
The Grizzlies stewed over the loss, but Zach Randolph said any Thunder celebration won't be energizing them for Friday night.
''It wasn't a good game for us. None of us. We missed a lot of shots We know what we've got to do. We've got to come out and got to play hard, with effort and make the shots we usually hit,'' he said.
This is the franchise counted out of a playoff run when Rudy Gay, their second leading scorer, was lost to a season-ending shoulder injury in February. Randolph believes the Grizzlies will rebound.
''People think we're done, but we believe. We stick together as one team with one goal,'' Randolph said.
Memphis will have to win the battle in the paint to avoid elimination. The team that has scored more points inside has won each game, and the Thunder outrebounded the Grizzlies 50-33 Wednesday night. The Grizzlies shot a season low 36 percent (28 of 78) and matched the lowest points scored during the regular season.
Randolph hit only 3 of 9 from the floor for nine points. Marc Gasol had 15 points but only five rebounds.
Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and even Nazr Mohammed and Nick Collison have helped frustrate both Randolph and Gasol by filling up space under the basket.
''Our bigs have all chipped in,'' Brooks said. ''We can throw all of them at him, and they all throw something different. It's important that we continue to do that because we don't want them - we don't want Zach - to get easy buckets. The more we can force him to take tough shots, the better we are. We just have to rebound.''
Memphis' best advantage may be playing at home. The Grizzlies are 4-1 there this postseason, and the Thunder needed three overtimes to hand them that lone loss. Memphis only needed minutes to sell out its sixth straight playoff game, and Grizzlies forward Shane Battier said this team has played its best at home.
He expects no less than a fantastic crowd once again.
''We've really tested the door of the bandwagon,'' Battier said. ''We had to open it a little wider to get all the people on the bandwagon when we started winning. Then we had to open it a little wider when we lose a few games. If anything, we're testing the hinges on the door of the bandwagon, which has no impact on our play.''
AP Sports Writer Jeff Latzke in Oklahoma City and AP freelance writer Clay Bailey in Memphis, Tenn., contributed to this report.