Basketball / Sports

Grizzlies blown away by desperate Thunder at home

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley undressed, wrapped a towel around his waist and labored to walk toward the shower.

A right hamstring strain had Conley dragging his leg past teammate Tony Allen, who stood at his locker and spoke as if the Grizzlies needed to put a towel over their collective heads.

"It's kind of embarrassing... We shot ourselves in the foot," Allen said.

That's one way of looking at the Grizzlies' 104-84 Game 6 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder and their inability to close out their first-round playoff series Thursday night in FedExForum.

The way the Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook shot the basketball also had a lot to do with forcing a Game 7 on Saturday night in Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Durant had 36 points and Westbrook added 25 in a game the Thunder controlled from start to finish with their assertive play on offense, strong disruption on defense and poise.

The Thunder arrived as advertised -- like a desperate team looking to save its season -- while the Griz appeared out of sync and rattled.

"There weren't a lot of Xs and Os in this one," Griz coach Dave Joerger said. "They came out with a lot of force, a lot of desperation and urgency."

Durant, the NBA's presumptive Most Valuable Player, set the tone early and continued his scoring prowess late into the fourth quarter. He made 11 of 23 shots and converted 14 of 15 free throws.

Forget all of the talk before the game about Durant being motivated by a headline in the Oklahoman that referred to Durant as "Mr. Unreliable."

"We were down 3-2," said Durant, who added 10 rebounds in a spirited performance. "I was thinking elimination. We need to win this game. That's more motivation than anything."

Durant's aggressive start had him routinely finding driving lanes to get good looks from mid-range or score at the rim. It's the most assertive Durant looked for an extended period since Game 1 when Oklahoma City sprinted out to a 25-point lead.

Durant tossed in 18 first-half points and that helped put the Griz in a 15-point hole by halftime.

"He was cooking," Griz forward Zach Randolph said.

Oklahoma City led 82-61 after three quarters, and made the final period a formality.

The Griz struggled through 37.3 percent shooting and with their composure.

Their frustration with the officiating in the second half never allowed the Griz to establish a rhythm and put together a significant rally.

"They were the aggressors. They were pushing and pulling, doing the things we normally do to start out a game," Allen said. "They were in attack mode the whole night."

Adding to Memphis' concerns was Conley having to depart late in the third quarter with the hamstring injury strain. He returned in the fourth quarter and tried to play but couldn't continue.

"Obviously, I want to play (in Game 7)," Conley said. "I plan on playing."

Conley's teammates seemed assured about his status for Game 7. Perhaps the only bit of mystery left in the series is how the Griz will counter the Thunder's lineup change and desire to mostly play small ball.

Caron Butler started in place of Thabo Sefolosha adding another offensive threat with the Thunder starters. Butler connected on a pair of 3-pointers and helped hold Griz guard Courtney Lee to 2 of 7 shooting.

Oklahoma City also turned to little-used center Steven Adams to help protect the paint. Adams blocked five shots and altered more in 20 minutes after playing a total of 21 minutes in the previous five games. Serge Ibaka had four blocked shots. Memphis shot just 23 of 50 in the paint.

"They have great timing," Gasol said. "We have to do a better job of protecting ourselves. Either that or stay on their body and don't let them jump."

To a man, the Griz acknowledged that the Thunder was the more physical team.

The Griz failed to match the Thunder's poise, too, especially in a wild third quarter that produced three technical fouls.

"This was a possession-by-possession, defensive mentality game. That's what we wanted," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "The guys did a good job of maintaining composure. We locked in and maintained our game plan."

Joerger said the tone was set in the first 6 to 8 eight minutes of the game, and that bears watching in Game 7. After leading 6-4 three minutes into the game, the Griz trailed the rest of the way, looking weary and demoralized in the process.

"We're going to get it figured out," Joerger said. "We've won there (Oklahoma City) before and we believe we can win there again. Obviously, we need to get off to a quick start in their building."

(c)2014 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.)

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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GRIZZLIES


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