Once upon a time, two young NBA teams formed a rivalry. The Memphis Grizzlies and the Oklahoma City Thunder were under the radar for quite some time.
But in the emergence of a new age in the Western Conference they were on the rise, fighting for top-shelf spots. The NBA world watched as the two teams started to seriously rumble with the well-known teams. Then came the 2011 playoff battle that spilled into a Game Seven, with the Grizzlies sent home in the second round.
Memphis and OKC faced each other once again in FedExForum on Wednesday. No it wasn't the playoffs, but it was a high-profile game with playoff-like intensity. This time around, the Grizzlies defeated the Thunder in overtime, 90-89, with starting guard Mike Conley leading the way.
The Grizzlies went into the Thunder game with a 12-3 mark since the All-Star break. They split a recent four-game road tour and on Monday turned back the Minnesota Timberwolves, 92-77, in a win after a slow start.
On Wednesday, a sell-out crowd assisted in creating the play-off atmosphere. Emotions were high. The crowd booed calls by the officials and heckled Thunder players from beginning to end.
"Every win in the NBA is emotional, but when you play the best team with the best record, then it's definitely a charged-up atmosphere from the beginning of the game with the fans, both teams, coaches and everybody getting into the game," said Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins. "It was just an exciting basketball game for everybody, and we were fortunate to get the win."
Conley finished with a season-high 24 points and a game-high five assists.
Jerryd Bayless came through with a clutch play off the bench, hitting a three-pointer with three seconds left in the fourth quarter to send the game into overtime (83-83). He already had contributed in a big way down the stretch as the Grizzlies outscored the Thunder 11-5, with Bayless tallying seven of the points. He finished with 20 points and was 4-of-6 from the three-point line.
In overtime, center Marc Gasol secured the win via a tip-in with 0.9 seconds remaining. He notched his15th double-double of the season, with 14 points and 15 rebounds.
"What does Tony say? Grit and grind? We believe. We definitely believe," Gasol said of the win. "We stayed in it."
It was the Grizzlies' first one-point win of the season. They held the Thunder to 2-for-18 from the three-point line, outrebounding them 54-46 and outscoring them 44-36 in the paint.
As the OT wound down, the Grizz wanted to get the ball in the hands of Zach Randolph to see if he could get to the rim and draw a foul or make a bucket.
"We knew everybody else was going to crash and try to tip something in," said Conley. "Marc (Gasol) was there and made the play. That was the game. It's always good to win a game like that because you are playing against one of the best teams in the league."
The Thunder lost to the Denver Nuggets (114-104) on Tuesday and faced the Grizzlies as part of a back-to-back.
"Going into this game, we wanted to bounce back from last night and I knew our guys would," said Thunder head coach Scott Brooks. "It was just one of those games, probably 10 of them a year where nobody deserves to lose the game, but we were on the bad side of that."
Kevin Durant led all scorers with 32 points.
"They are a veteran team," Durant said. "They have veteran guys."
With 15 regular-season games remaining, the Grizzlies improved to 46-21 for the season. They face the New Orleans Hornets on the road on Friday and will return home to face the Boston Celtics on Saturday.