Heat, Grizzlies advance to respective NBA conference finals
Miami defeated the Chicago Bulls Wednesday night to win their Eastern Conference semifinal series, while Memphis reached its very first Western Conference final by defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder.
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The Memphis Grizzlies, led by NBA defensive player of the year Marc Gasol, held off a late surge by the Oklahoma City Thunder Wednesday night en route to an 88-84 victory and a four games to one Western Conference semifinal series win – their first-ever trip to the conference finals. The Grizzlies got mammoth production from big man Zach Randolph, who had 28 points and 14 rebounds. Memphis guard Mike Conley had 13 points and 11 assists to put away the Thunder in front of the 113th consecutive sellout crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.
Without the added perimeter threat of Russell Westbrook, there was just too much pressure on Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, who was held to only 21 points – he went 0-for-6 during the first quarter and finished 5-for-21 from the floor – his third worst shooting percentage ever in a playoff game. He was guarded for a majority of the contest by the Grizzlies’ Tayshaun Prince, who stuck to him like fly paper.
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The Thunder were playing from behind for much of the game, and with the exception of Serge Ibaka, could never really make inroads against Randolph and Gasol, who batted away balls with regularity. On offense, the Grizzlies were able to drive the lane almost at will, with Prince, Conley and Tony Allen (who had 11 points on the night) supplementing the post play of Randolph and Gasol. In addition, Thunder big man Kendrick Perkins was particularly disappointing on both ends of the floor, with only 2 points and 3 rebounds. There were moments of tension during the game between him and Durant, and that didn’t help either.
Oklahoma City, who like Memphis had four scorers in double-figures, had their chances inside - they had 38 points in the paint to Memphis’ 36 and took second-chance points, 16-11 – but they also turned the ball over 14 times, which the opportunistic Grizzlies converted into 22 points.
Oklahoma City ended the third quarter with a 16-4 scoring drive, but that was countered by a 10-2 Memphis run to start the fourth. Down at the time by 11, the Thunder’s run was started by a curious play with 5 minutes to go in the third: missing a three from in front of the Grizzlies’ bench, the Thunder’s Derek Fisher had been distracted by a shirt that had been thrown to the side of him on the floor, courtesy of Memphis’ Tony Allen. Fisher was given the three, Allen was assessed a technical, and it was an instant four-point turnaround that got the home team’s momentum going again.