The Memphis Grizzlies have never been to the Western Conference finals. Memphis can get there for the first time if it can defeat the host Oklahoma City Thunder in Wednesday’s Game 5 of their conference semifinal series. The Grizzlies have won three straight games after a Game 1 loss while taking advantage of an Oklahoma City squad missing Russell Westbrook. The Thunder lost three consecutive games just once during the regular season and never dropped four straight.
Forward Kevin Durant has tried to carry the Thunder without Westbrook (knee) and he will need three more yeoman efforts if Oklahoma City is to overcome its deficit. “One thing about Kevin, he’s going to come back and give everything he has,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “He’s not an excuse guy. He’s not going to blame anything on nobody, other than put the pressure on himself to perform.” Memphis lost a seven-game series to the Thunder two seasons ago and isn’t about to let up with Oklahoma City on the brink of elimination. The Grizzlies overcame a 17-point deficit to win Game 4 in overtime. “We are a team that just plays hard and doesn’t quit,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said afterward. “We scratch, we claw.”
TV: 9:30 p.m. ET, TNT
ABOUT THE GRIZZLIES: Center Marc Gasol was named NBA Defensive Player of the Year last month but somehow only earned a second-team spot on the All-Defensive team selected by the NBA coaches that was released Monday. Gasol seemed to draw motivation from the snub by blocking six shots to go with 23 points and 11 rebounds in Game 4. Gasol is in the midst of an outstanding series, scoring 20 or more points in all four games while averaging 21.8 points and 8.8 rebounds. Power forward Zach Randolph had his best game of the series with 23 points and 12 rebounds in Game 4 and the Grizzlies are hard to beat when Randolph and Gasol both record double-doubles in the same game. Point guard Mike Conley is averaging 19.3 points but has made just one-third of his shots in three of the four games.
ABOUT THE THUNDER: Power forward Serge Ibaka is coming off his best game of the series and has two straight double-doubles after shooting 6-for-22 over the first two games. Ibaka had 17 points and 14 rebounds in Game 4 to help take some scoring pressure off Durant. “We need his scoring, we need his shooting and I thought this last game was good,” Brooks said. “Hopefully we can get it again.” Durant is averaging 30.8 points and 11 rebounds in the series but was just 10-for-27 in Monday’s loss. Durant faded down the stretch and Derek Fisher’s 3-pointer was Oklahoma City’s lone scoring of the overtime.
1. Oklahoma City averaged 105.7 points during the regular season but is averaging just 91 in this series.
2. Memphis has won an NBA-leading 11 games when trailing by at least 17 points since the start of the 2009-10 campaign.
3. Thunder PG Reggie Jackson is averaging 13.3 points in the series as Westbrook’s replacement in the starting lineup.
PREDICTION: Thunder 105, Grizzlies 101