May 16, 2013, 1:54 AM EDT
The Memphis Grizzlies have punched a ticket to the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history, thanks to closing out the Thunder 88-84 with a Game 5 victory in Oklahoma City.
The Thunder were going to need a superstar performance out of Kevin Durant in order to extend this series, and just as has been the case over the past few games, it simply didn’t come to pass.
Durant started this elimination game by missing his first seven shots, perhaps due to the fact that he was trying to do too much in the early part of things to keep his team within reach. He finished shooting just 5-of-21 from the field, with 21 points, eight rebounds, six assists, and seven turnovers.
With Durant unable to carry his undermanned team, the Grizzlies were able to lead by double digits for most of the game. They got a huge performance out of Zach Randolph, who contributed 28 points and 14 rebounds, and everyone else did just enough for Memphis to come out on top.
Oklahoma City made a late run to make a game of it, and legitimately had a chance to steal this one in the final minutes to extend the series.
After the Grizzlies had re-established a double digit lead with under three minutes to play, the Thunder went on a furious run to get back into it, and cut the lead to just two on a three-pointer from Reggie Jackson with 14 seconds remaining. An intentional foul by the Thunder sent Randolph to the free throw line, but he missed both of his attempts, giving the Thunder one final chance.
Somewhat miraculously, Durant was able to free himself from Tony Allen, and received the ball with a wide-open look from not much more than 15 feet out. Durant makes that shot in his sleep, yet couldn’t get it to go on this night, and the Grizzlies sealed the game at the free throw line following the rebound of the missed shot.
Once Russell Westbrook was lost for the remainder of the postseason due to injury, few expected the Thunder to advance beyond the second round. The fact that they were able to stay close with the Grizzlies until the final moments of every game in this series is a testament to their collective will, as well as to Durant’s ability to singlehandedly be great for extended stretches.
The Grizzlies were by no means dominant in this series, and those who are penciling them into an NBA Finals matchup with the Heat should be cautious in remembering just how efficient the Spurs can be on both ends of the floor before sliding Memphis past them into the championship round.
But regardless of how much you may choose to overvalue this Memphis team, this is a massive accomplishment for the Grizzlies, especially given how inconsistent they were during the regular season. The confidence they’ve gained to this point in the playoffs will serve them well in the Conference finals, though they’ll have to be much more efficient offensively to take down the likes of the Spurs in a seven game series in the next round.
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