In the spirit of old sports cliches, Game 3 of the first round series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies was deja vu all over again.
The favorites (Oklahoma City) were cooked. Done. Finut. Down 17 with 7:43 to play, the folks at NumberFire gave the Thunder a one percent chance of pulling out the win. Yet after they scored 17 unanswered points, capped off by a huge corner three from Russell Westbrook that tied the game, every statistician and analyst flipped those odds as the mystique of momentum threatened to unhinge Memphis entirely.
Of course, that game-tying three was just the beginning of the drama, as Westbrook followed it up with a careless turnover, and a miraculous four-point play to bring his team back from certain defeat. That sequence fuels the debate on whether Westbrook is an elite point guard, or simply an elite athlete, but more importantly, it marked the second consecutive game that a Thunder superstar hit an improbable three pointer, while getting fouled, to send the contest to overtime.
The Thunder made an incredible come back against all odds, but what the Grizzlies did in overtime may be more impressive. After failing to score for most of the entire fourth quarter, and giving up an and-1 to Kevin Durant to start the extra period, Memphis went on a 10-2 run to resurrect their stunned home crowd and pull out the win.
A few conclusions after Game 3. Through three games, this is the greatest first round series NBA fans have seen since the Celtics and Bulls battled for seven games in 2009 (see grainy highlights below).
Secondly, that may have been the worst playoff game of Kevin Durant’s career. He missed several bunnies, dealt with some frustrating rim-outs as he went 0 for 8 from downtown including a narrow miss (1:35 mark of highlights) that likely would’ve sent the game to double overtime, and still finished with 30 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocks, and 3 of the team’s measly 13 assists. The BEST PLAYER IN THE NBA (love saying that, LeBron) will bounce back in the remaining games this series and Grizzlies fans should be very scared of Durant.
Finally, as we discussed on Tuesday after the first epic overtime clash between these teams, results in the NBA playoffs are no longer a foregone conclusion. Even in the dreadful Eastern Conference, there is a very good chance the eighth seeded Atlanta Hawks upend the overrated Indiana Pacers, and the West is clearly wide open.
If we continue to see great games like the one in Memphis last night, I don’t think you’ll hear many complaints about playoff action every night for nearly two months, because if we have to watch similar contests all over again, they might as well be exciting as all hell.