By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript
OKLAHOMA CITY —
It was a night Oklahoma City needed his best. With its season on the line, Kevin Durant had to be superhuman.
Unfortunately for the Thunder, Durant was far from it Wednesday when they faced Memphis in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals. The Grizzlies wore Durant down and forced the rest of the Thunder to try and beat them. They couldn’t as Memphis earned a 88-84 victory at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The loss ended the Thunder’s season well short of last season, where it ended in the NBA Finals. Memphis advance to the conference finals, a place it has never been before.
“Sometimes you have to ride out the storm to get to the sunset,” Durant said. “I gave it all I had for my team. I left it all out on the floor.”
But it wasn’t easy. Oklahoma City cut the lead to 80-73 with two minutes left in the game. Serge Ibaka came up with a blocked shot to give ball back to the Thunder. Ibaka took an assist from Durant to throw down a dunk.
However, Ibaka fouled out on the Grizzlies’ next possession when Tony Allen picked up a fastbreak layup. The resulting 3-point play pushed the advantage back to eight points for the Grizz.
After a pair of Nick Collison buckets, Oklahoma City found itself down 83-79 with 49 seconds remaining. But Marc Gasol quieted the raucous crowd with a buzzer-beating 17-foot jump shot.
Kevin Martin hit a pair of free throws, and Zach Randolph was fouled and sent to the charity stripe. He made 1 of 2.
The Thunder’s Reggie Jackson drained a 3-pointer with 14 seconds left and closed the gap to 86-84. Randolph went back to the line and missed both attempts. Durant got the rebound with 10.9 left on the clock. It was one last chance for Durant to come through again.
But Durant’s 15-foot jump shot was off the mark, and the Grizzlies’ Tony Allen put the game away with a pair of free throws.
"I made a good move, I pulled up and missed the shot," Durant said. "I was just thinking to try and get a open shot.... it was just too long."
Memphis rode Randolph’s back the entire night. He poured in 28 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. Mike Conley added 13 points and 11 assists. Gasol was held to 10 points but chipped in with seven rebounds, three steals and three blocks.
Durant paced the Thunder with 21 points on 5-for-21 shooting. He also racked up eight rebounds and six assists to go along with seven turnovers.
Ibaka had 17 points and eight rebounds. Jackson scored 16 points and nabbed nine rebounds.
"I thought he played like it was an elimination game, " Allen said of Durant. "He tried to do everything by himself. He kind of forced a lot of things. That's just a great team defense."
Durant started the contest 0-6 from the field as he continued to force shots against a tight Grizzlies defense. But unlike past games, his teammates found a way to get involved. That included Ibaka and Kevin Martin, who combined for 15 first-quarter points.
Memphis spread the wealth in the early going. but it was Randolph who set the tone with his inside play that Oklahoma City didn’t seem to have an answer for.
“His relentless determination,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “He’s an aggressive offensive rebounder. He’s an aggressive low post player. He has so many shots that he throws at you. He’s a handful.”
Collison was brought into the game to match up with Randolph, but he picked up three fouls in less than six minutes.
Memphis took advantage with 17 points off eight turnovers and led 50-38 at the half.
The Grizzlies kept grinding away in the third period and pushed their advantage to 14.
But the Thunder began to make a run after Allen, who was sitting on the bench, threw a towel on the floor during a Derek Fisher 3-point attempt. The basket counted and Durant hit the technical to complete the four-point play.
The Thunder outscored the Grizz 16-4 to cut the lead to 64-62 heading into the fourth quarter.
But for the fourth straight game, Oklahoma City didn’t have enough when it counted.
“We fought every single game,” Durant said. “Every game came down to the last few minutes. It was unfortunate we didn’t come out on the winning side. It's a joy playing for these guys and it's a joy playing for this great city. We came up short.”