May 10, 2011, 2:49 AM EDT
It was long. It was draining. It was sloppy. It was brilliant. It was physical. It had easy shots missed and impossible ones hit. It was entertaining. It was basketball you could not turn away from.
It was the best game of the playoffs so far.
And in the end — three overtimes later — Oklahoma City has evened its series with Memphis 2-2 after a 133-123 win.
For us fans, thank you Memphis and Oklahoma City.
It leaves us a tied series with this simple question — which team can bounce back better from this exhausting game? The team that does will win. Can Memphis bounce back from this kind of devastating loss? Did Oklahoma City leave everything they have on the court and can they play with the energy needed again in less than 48 hours? (The last three winners of a playoff triple overtime game lost the series.)
But oh, what a Game 4.
At first it was Oklahoma City that had to rally back — down 18 at one point in the second quarter — but they found a way to get turnovers and some fast break buckets.
Once again it looked like Oklahoma City was going to find a way to blow a lead — they were up by five points with 7:30 left in the fourth quarter.
And then they ran in to the same problem — a nine-minute stretch where Kevin Durant did not get a shot off. Russell Westbrook took a lot of heat for this the last few days around the Interwebs, and he deserves some of the blame. He can get tunnel vision on shots. But Durant becomes a spectator, not moving to get open, not doing his part to get into position. Coach Scott Brooks deserves part of the blame. Everyone deserves some blame for not getting James Harden the ball as a shot creator more in this situation because he is the best passer, best pure point guard they have. Harden was a beast in this game.
And all that takes away from what Memphis did. They created turnovers, they grabbed offensive boards (on 38.7 percent of their missed shots on the night).
And oh, did they make shots.
There was Mike Conley with a ridiculous three from 28 feet out over the outstretched arm of Kendrick Perkins with three seconds left to send it to the first overtime. (Yes, they should have fouled before the shot.)
There was rookie Greivis Vasquez — in only because Conley had fouled out — who matched Conley’s ridiculous three and upped it one with a leaning shot-put of a three to send it to a second overtime.
Through it all both teams were beating each other up inside — Nick Collison banging on Zach Randolph, Kendrick Perkins banging on everyone (but missing two key free throws that could have ended this game a lot earlier).
The thunder kept pulling away — Durant at one point hit a ridiculous catch-and-shoot three to put the Thunder up by 7 in one overtime. But O.J. Mayo answered with a three. And so it went, shot by shot, answer for answer.
Until in the third overtime, when the Grizzlies could not summon another answer to another Thunder run.
It was a roller coaster. Westbrook finished with 40 points, Durant had 35 on 20 shots, plus 13 rebounds. Harden had 19, Mayo 18.
It was amazing. Flat out stunning.
And the team that best recovers from it will win the series.