“We came up big in this game,” said Conley. “It was a must win where we had to do anything and everything to get by. All we can do is play hard and compete.”
|Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook leads a regroup session as OKC looks for a way to counter Memphis’ drive to victory in Game 6. (Photos by Warren Roseborough)|
|O.J. Mayo, who was inserted into the starting lineup, was aggressive from the jump, putting the pressure on Kevin Durant and the Thunder.|
|With Game 6 in the bank, Mike Conley accepts congratulations from Grizz fans.|
|Zach Randolph played with a force the Thunder just could not match down low. |
|Grizz Coach Lionel Hollins says Memphis will be ready for Game 7, the pundits notwithstanding. |
On a night when when R&B icon Al Green sang the “The Star Spangled Banner” and wrestling king Jerry Lawler stirred the crowd with a hyped second-half sketch, the Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 95-83, forcing Game 7 in the NBA Western Conference semifinal playoff series.
While traditional powerhouses such as the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers have been booted out of the playoffs, the Grizzlies are still alive because in Game 6 they locked onto a strategy that worked.
Mayo was transitioned back into the starting lineup, playing 39 minutes and scoring 16 points. His presence enhanced Memphis’ outside shooting potential and caused the Thunder to defend him, leaving some open space for go-to big man Zach Randolph.
“You have to guard O.J. (Mayo),” Randolph said. “He can make shots from outside. It opened up a little bit tonight in the paint. We had great spacing.”
Randolph was awesome, again. He led the Grizz with 30 points and 13 rebounds, scoring 20 points in the second half.
“We understand what we’re playing for and what’s at stake,” Randolph said. “That’s what it’s all about. This is what we play for. I’d rather be playing now than on vacation or anything else. We have to be ready. We’re going into their place. We have to be ready. Their fans will be ready, but we’re going to be ready also. It’s going to be a good game.”
The series that now is tied 3-3 will end on Sunday afternoon at the Oklahoma City Arena.
Victory in Game 6 was a recovery from a 27-point beat down in Oklahoma City. Down by 10 going into the second half, the Grizz and came back to outscore the Thunder 51-29.
With Grizz nation in high-support mode – yet a bet apprehensive – the Thunder came out confident. And for a while, it looked as if OKC might be headed to Dallas to face the Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals.
The Grizzlies defense forced them off the road.
With Shane Battier diving for loose balls, Tony Allen firing up threes, Randolph breaking through the Thunder defense and still mounting his points, the Grizzlies showed the resolve that has marked their magic-like run through the playoffs.
“We just have to go out and do it again,” said Grizz Head Coach Lionel Hollins.
“I know all of the pundits think it’s over. They’ve been saying we would win tonight and Oklahoma City would win in seven, but it’s not over yet. We have to go win that game and I’m looking forward to it.”
Conley recorded a franchise record with 12 assists. He also scored 11 points and grabbed four rebounds, with just two turnovers.
Conley’s counterpart, Russell Westbrook, was the leader for the Thunder with 27 points. James Harden came off the bench with 14 points and six rebounds.
And Thunder star and NBA leading scorer Kevin Durant was held to a playoff career-low 11 points.
Westbrook pointed to what he considered the game’s turning point.
“It led from the three-pointer that Shane hit,” Westbrook said. “I think that gave them momentum going into halftime and it just got going from there.”