OKLAHOMA CITY -- -- In the end, Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger stood as he often has before with his arms crossed and teeth showing through a nervy grin.
The man charged with sustaining it all -- an elite-level defense and competitive spirit reserved only for contenders -- arguably said it all Saturday night after the Grizzlies were eliminated from the Western Conference playoffs.
"We played our tails off," Joerger said. "We just didn't have enough."
That just about summed up the Grizzlies' regular season. The statement also rang true in their feisty first-round appearance against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who handed the Griz a 120-109 Game 7 loss in Chesapeake Energy Arena.
While the Thunder advanced to play the winner of the Los Angeles Clippers-Golden State Warriors series the Griz were sent into moments of reflection beyond the game that knocked them out of the postseason.
"We didn't do anything special but compete every night," Griz center Marc Gasol said. "Of course, you have to be proud of winning 50 games. I expect so much of this team... I'm proud but I want more."
Game 7 certainly was a microcosm of what the Griz experienced this season. They were constantly dealt adversity and road blocks. Joerger & Co. just couldn't get over the last hurdle.
Playing without suspended forward Zach Randolph, the Griz were forced to play basketball on skates like the Thunder prefer to and couldn't keep up.
Gasol tried his best to give the Griz a low-post presence and finished with 24 points. Mike Conley added 20 points and nine assists.
But the Griz couldn't overcome the Thunder's torrid shooting.
Kevin Durant amassed 33 points on 12 of 18 shooting that included 5 of 5 from three-point range. Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook chipped in 27 points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds to earn his third career playoff triple-double and his second in the series.
Durant was the subject of media criticism for poor shooting throughout the series and made a confession when it ended.
"You guys motivated me a little bit, even though I told you you didn't," he said.
Oklahoma City closed out the series by shooting 60.9 percent overall and 57.9 percent from long range in Game 7.
"You fight for something so hard, you've got so much passion for it and everybody on the team has the same goal and we're trying to reach that goal, but you hit a huge speed bump and it's over with," Griz guard Courtney Lee said. "The only thing we can do is learn from this, and next year if we got to go through OKC then we'll have to go through them, but come back stronger."
Memphis was plucky but not close to 100 percent in the deciding game.
Randolph sat out a one-game suspension for punching Thunder center Steven Adams in the jaw in Game 6. Conley played with a strained right hamstring. Tony Allen had to clear up an eye infection that prevented him from participating in the Grizzlies' morning shootaround.
"I knew if I could jog I could play," Conley said. "It was tough but it was what needed to be done. We had to go out there guns blazing no matter who was hurting."
Allen lauded the Grizzlies' effort but lamented the loss of Randolph on the floor.
"What today showed was Z-Bo's worth," Allen said. "It showed how much he was missing. We truly believe had he not gotten suspended, we probably would have advanced. But I like the way we came out."
Joerger employed his 19th different starting lineup, dating back to the regular season. He inserted Allen and Mike Miller into the starting lineup with Conley, Lee and Gasol.
The small lineup proved to be formidable but faded in the second half.
Oklahoma City, playing fast and free, began the third quarter on a 17-5 run. Memphis never recovered. The Griz trailed by double digits for all but 20 seconds in the second half.
The Griz trailed 61-58 at halftime but led by as many as 11 points in the first half.
"Obviously, 61-58 at halftime is not the score we wanted to have. It's not in our favor," Griz forward Tayshaun Prince said. "But they just shot the crap out of the ball in the second half. They came out aggressive the first five minutes."
However, the Griz hit first and staggered the Thunder early on its home floor.
Memphis went inside to Gasol early and often, and the 7-footer delivered in the post. Gasol made 6 of his first 8 shots. The Griz also used crisp, decisive ball movement that had the Thunder defense scrambling. The Griz assisted 10 of their first 12 field goals.
Memphis' defense compensated for a lack of rebounding early on. After forcing seven turnovers and shooting 57 percent, the Griz led 36-27 at the end of the opening period. It was the most points the Griz scored in any first quarter this season.
"I know they were down a man, but they fought," Thunder coach Scot Brooks said. "They had that next-man mentality. We knew going into this series, it was going to be a heck of a series."
Joerger said he had constant reminders along the way that this would be a successful season and one to remember.
"We stuck together," Joerger said. "That's what I'll remember. What we've done since January 1... Those guys should be proud."
(c)2014 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.)
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