OKLAHOMA CITY – With their trademark grit-and-grind mentality, the Memphis Grizzlies are making history for a franchise with little prior post-season success.
Zach Randolph had 28 points and 14 rebounds, Mike Conley added 13 points and 11 assists, and the fifth-seeded Grizzlies advanced to the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history by beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 88-84 last night at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“This is the first time, so it definitely means a lot. I’m happy, but we’ve still got work to do,” Randolph said. “I want to win a ring.”
The Grizzlies, who got swept out of the playoffs in their first three trips and had won just one postseason series before this season, have already made it farther than ever before but still aren’t satisfied.
“We’re trying to do something really special. We want to go as far as we can go,” coach Lionel Hollins said. “To get there, we had to get through Oklahoma City. And now, we have to get through either Golden State or San Antonio to get further.”
In a series filled with games that went down to the wire, the finale fit right in – even though the Thunder trailed by 12 with 3 minutes left.
Kevin Durant missed a 16-foot jumper from the left wing that would have tied it with 6 seconds left, finishing off a miserable shooting night for the three-time NBA scoring champion. Durant ended up with 21 points on 5-for-21 shooting, the third-worst performance of his playoff career.
“I gave it all I had for my team. I left it all out there on the floor,” Durant said. “I missed 16 shots, but I kept fighting, I kept being aggressive. That’s all I can ask for.”
The Thunder, who made it to the NBA Finals last season, were eliminated in five games. The top seed in the West went 2-6 after All-Star guard Russell Westbrook had knee surgery two games into the first round.
“I believe in our guys. I’m disappointed we didn’t win this series. I felt that we were good enough to win this series,” coach Scott Brooks said.
Serge Ibaka had 17 points and eight rebounds before fouling out with 1:26 to play during a desperation comeback try for the Thunder. Reggie Jackson’s 3-pointer finished off the 16-6 rally, cutting the deficit to 86-84 with 14.3 seconds remaining.
Randolph missed both free throws with 11.3 seconds on the clock to give the Thunder one last chance to save their season. Durant got the ball beyond the 3-point line on the left wing and navigated around Tony Allen before missing the jumper.
“That’s the shot that we wanted. … That’s the shot I will live with 100 times out of 100 times,” Brooks said.Allen got the rebound, was fouled and made two free throws to close it out.
Meanwhile in Miami, LeBron James scored 23 points, Dwyane Wade added 18 and had a brilliant 45-second sequence that proved crucial, and the Heat clawed back from an 11-point second-half deficit to beat the Chicago Bulls 94-91 and close out their second-round series in five games.
The Heat outscored Chicago 25-14 in the fourth quarter to escape and advance.”I knew the fourth quarter was going to be tough so I wanted to re-tape my knee,” said Wade, who has been battling bone bruises on his knee for several weeks.
“I knew I was going to come back into a grind. Our trainers did a great job of getting taped it enough so I could come out and play.”
Did they ever.
Wade had a blocked shot, a defensive rebound, an offensive rebound and a put-back slam – all in a late 45-second span – to help cap a wild night of wild comebacks.
The Heat blew an early 18-point lead, then pulled off a late rally to finish off the depleted Bulls, who still had two chances on their last possession to force overtime.
But Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler missed 3-pointers, time expired, and Miami moved on to face Indiana or New York next week.