The Memphis Grizzlies came into their fifth bubble game in desperation mode. With Portland hot on their heels they desperately needed a win and needed a change. Coach Jenkins tried to provide a spark by returning Clarke to the bench and inserting Tolliver into the starting lineup. The hope was that the veteran would bring a stabilizing presence.
The Memphis Grizzlies had played close games in their first four tilts but faltered at the end of all of them. The young team had let the pressure get to them and tightened up in the clutch.
Coming Out Full Tilt
Memphis needed to come out huffing and puffing, but again started the game flat footed. Without their signature drive and energy, the Grizzlies defenders let the Thunder continuously blow by them for easy buckets.
Without Steven Adams playing in the game, Memphis hoped to gain an advantage on the boards. This hope quickly proved fleeting as the Thunder established dominance on the glass. They out-rebounded Memphis in the first quarter and doubled them up in offensive rebounds.
If it weren’t for Valancunas’ bully ball, Memphis would have been in trouble in the first half. It was also profitabel for Memphis when Oklahoma City went away from their game plan of penetrating the Memphis defence. They were successful early on multiple drives and kickouts, but found it difficult to do do with Gilgeous-Alexander on the bench. This allowed The Grizzlies to go on a run and take the lead with efficient dribble penetration of their own.
Tolliver and Dieng proved not only instrumental, but essential in the Grizzlies offensive success int he first half. Dieng put the ball on the floor and attacked the Thunder’s depleted inside defence. He finished the half with twelve points, while Tolliver shot 2 of 3 from downtown and added 4 rebounds.
With 30 seconds left int he half Morant gave every Memphis fan a heart attack. He attacked the bucket with one of his patented high-flying drives that very few players can replicate, got knocked off balance while in the air and fell hard on his hip. It was a frightening fall, but knowing full well how much his team needed him, Ja shook it off, made his free throws and kept on leading his team.
Conserving the Lead
Valanciunas came out with flames shooting out of his butt. He was one fire and scored the first 6 points for Memphis in the second half. This was contrasted by Gilgeous-Alexander who remained ice cold coming out of the locker room. He took long jumpers instead of putting his head down and slashing as he does so well.
Grayson Allen pitched in with multiple big threes in the third quarter. Lacking the quickness to consistently create his own shot, he was money in catch and shoot situations. He easily got open off screens and drained the long ball at a high clip. It was a very encouraging sign going forward.
The Thunder’s dismal shooting plagued them throughout most of the game. They started hot, but then decided to settle for long jumper that they stopped hitting midway though the first quarter. It was horrific decision making which cost them the game and admittedly surprising for a team lead by Chris Paul.
Morant got to the rim at will and did not settle for jumps shots as he had done in previous games. He drove often and got his teammates involved by collapsing the defence and opening up the wings. He finished with 19 points and 8 assists in an impressive performance.