Claremore Daily Progress

Sports

May 6, 2013

NBA PLAYOFFS: Thunder strike first, take 1-0 lead on Grizzlies

OKLAHOMA CITY — Kevin Durant was in just the right spot and, once he had the ball, knew exactly what to do with it.

Derek Fisher poked the ball away from Memphis' Mike Conley and it squirted right to Durant standing under his own basket.

The three-time NBA scoring champion raced into the open court, pulled up and connected on a jumper with 11.1 seconds left for the last of his 35 points, lifting the Thunder to a 93-91 victory over the Grizzlies on Sunday in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.

"I just wanted to get up the floor as quick as possible and find a shot,'' said Durant, who finished second to LeBron James in league MVP voting announced Sunday. "That was the only shot I could find and, by the grace of God, it went in.''

Game 2 is Tuesday night in Oklahoma City.

Thabo Sefolosha kept the Grizzlies from going back ahead, deflecting a pass that Conley was able to corral - but only after diving out of bounds. Reggie Jackson then hit a pair of free throws for a three-point lead, and Quincy Pondexter couldn't force overtime after getting fouled while attempting a 3-pointer with 1.6 seconds left.

Pondexter, a 72 percent career free-throw shooter, missed the first free throw. He made his second attempt before intentionally missing the third, but Durant swatted the rebound away and Marc Gasol's attempt at a buzzer-beater was late.

"Every player on our team saw this win, and it didn't happen,'' Pondexter said. "So, you've just got to move on and not make the same mistakes twice.''

Kevin Martin scored 25 for Oklahoma City, which trailed for much of the game but was able to avoid repeating its Game 1 loss from when these two teams met in the West semifinals two years ago. The Thunder were able to rally and win that series in seven.

The Grizzlies lost the first two games in the last round before winning four in a row to reach the second round.

"Hopefully it's a good luck pattern that we dig ourselves in a hole and come back swinging and win,'' Pondexter said. "But it's one game. They're up 1-0 and our job is to try to steal one on the road. The series is just getting started.''

Durant finished off the opener after a key defensive stop by Fisher, a five-time NBA champion who only joined the Thunder after asking to be released by Dallas for family reasons earlier in the season. Conley had gotten past him on a drive to the basket when Fisher reached in from behind and knocked the ball free.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks opted not to call timeout, but said he might have if the ball hadn't bounced to just the right person for Oklahoma City.

"In any situation, he is going to be tough to guard,'' Conley said. "But obviously when they didn't call a timeout, it is tough to guard a guy when you've got a team backing up and you are trying to set up a defense. Either way, we were going to have our hands full.''

Tayshaun Prince backpedaled at full speed and couldn't recover in time when Durant stopped on a dime and shot from the left wing.

"Kevin Durant's a great player and he got going to make some good shots,'' Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. "Talk about whatever you want to talk about, but he made those shots. That last one on the break when they were down one and he made that shot to put them up one, not everybody is making that shot at that particular point.''

Zach Randolph chipped in 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Grizzlies, and Pondexter and Conley scored 13 apiece. As a team, Memphis went 14 for 24 on free throws. Oklahoma City, which was the league's top foul shooting team with the third-best mark in NBA history, was 22 of 25.

"Obviously, we have to make free throws, especially myself,'' said Pondexter, who was slapped on his right arm by Jackson on his attempt at the tying 3-pointer. "We've just got to take this as a learning experience and move on.''

The Grizzlies led most of the way, letting a seven-point lead slip away in the first half before surging out to a 70-58 advantage late in the third quarter. Pondexter seemed to thwart one rally when he hit a buzzer-beater from the half-court logo to finish the third quarter and bump the lead to 73-64, but Oklahoma City opened the fourth on a 9-2 run to get within 75-73.

The Thunder finally tied it at 84 with 3:47 left after a 7-0 burst, with Durant sandwiching a pair of driving buckets around Fisher's 3-pointer. The Grizzlies went back up 90-87 when Serge Ibaka missed one of two free throws and Gasol followed with a hook shot with 1:08 to go, but couldn't close it out.

"When you lose, everything can't be negative,'' Gasol said. "When you win, not everything is positive. ... I know we're mad, but we've got to get better for next game.''



 

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