It wasn't a comfortable conclusion, but the Memphis Grizzlies held off a charging Oklahoma City Thunder to win Game 5, 88-84, and the series in five.
The Grizzlies led by two points at the beginning of the fourth quarter, after leading by close to double digits much of the game. A huge third quarter and late push from the Thunder made things interesting in the end, but at the final buzzer, Memphis advanced and Oklahoma City sent its fans home down and dismayed.
Kevin Durant had numerous chances to raise his game to another level, like he said he wanted to prior to tipoff. Unfortunately, his jumper to tie with four seconds remaining rimmed out into the hands of his defensive nightmare, Tony Allen.
Durant's last miss made him 5-of-21 on the night and 0-of-4 from downtown. He scored 21 points and had a decent fourth quarter, but the Thunder needed a more efficient performance throughout.
The Grizzlies got their efficient performance from Zach Randolph. Despite bricking three of four free throws at the end of the game, Randolph tallied a game-high 28 points and 14 rebounds for Memphis. He bruised his way through the Thunder defense all night, in clutch closeout form.
Mike Conley fought through a rough night from the floor by dishing 11 assists and grabbing seven rebounds to go along with his 13 points. A chunk of those assists went to Marc Gasol late in the fourth quarter, where the big man scored the majority of his 10 points.
Serge Ibaka contributed 17 points and eight boards to the Thunder offense, but it desperately missed the production that Russell Westbrook brought as a second option.
Durant had an abysmal first half, going 2-of-11 from the field. That hindered the Thunder severely and led to them trailing 50-38 at the intermission. Randolph on the other end posted 16 points and eight boards in the half, dominating the defensive frontcourt.
Thanks to a weird Tony Allen bench technical, the Thunder cut the Grizzlies lead to just seven with five minutes, seven seconds remaining in the third quarter. While cheering, Allen inadvertently tossed a towel onto the floor that landed in front of a Thunder shooter.
That technical foul/four-point play contributed to a 16-4 run that closed the quarter for the Thunder. Great ball movement and some timely shooting cut the 12-point halftime lead to just two. The Grizzlies led 64-62 entering the final quarter.
The Grizzlies defense held Oklahoma City scoreless through the first 3:29 of the fourth quarter. During that time and beyond it, Memphis created space on the scoreboard. Eventually, a Quincy Pondexter trey pushed it ahead by 10 again, 74-64 with 6:37.
Just outside the six-minute mark, Ibaka was whistled for his fifth foul, holding on to Randolph on a rebound. That put the Thunder's second-leading scorer in serious jeopardy. Scott Brooks left him in the game though, as both Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison weren't playing well.
Back-to-back Conley-to-Gasol jumpers pushed the Grizzlies back ahead by 12, 80-68 with 4:18 to go. Gasol struggled offensively for much of the game (2-of-9 at that point), but those two buckets were huge.
At the three-minute mark, the Thunder had been held to just six points in the fourth quarter. Durant was 1-of-4 with two turnovers.
Another Derek Fisher trey from the corner, the only shot he takes these days, cut the Thunder deficit to 80-73 inside two minutes.
An Allen three-point play extended the lead, but Collison wouldn't allow that to stand. The Thunder's reserve big got two straight buckets at the rim. That last basket, on Durant's fourth assist of the quarter, put the Thunder down just four with 49.3 seconds left.
Marc Gasol continued a big fourth quarter with another jumper from the top of the key. Again, this one was on a Conley assist, his 10th of the game.
The Thunder went into foul-mode there, and it appeared to pay off when Randolph hit just one of two and Reggie Jackson nailed his first three of the game. With 13 seconds left, the Thunder trailed only two, 86-84.
Randolph again was the shooter for the next pair, with 10.9 seconds left. This time around, he couldn't even get one of two. Randolph bricked both, giving the Thunder added life.
Kevin Durant, 5-of-20 at the time, rose up around the top of the key and gracefully tossed a shot at the rim. Unfortunately, like they had done all game, it glanced off the rim and into the Grizzlies' possession. Allen hit both freebies at the other end, putting the game out of reach.
With that, the Western Conference Finals mailed out the first of two invites. It's an exclusive party, and the Memphis Grizzlies will be in attendance.