Durant, Thunder edge Grizzlies 93-91
OKLAHOMA CITY — Derek Fisher turned a tough situation for the Oklahoma City Thunder into the worst-case scenario for the Grizzlies.
With the Thunder down by one in the final minute, Fisher poked the ball away from Memphis’ Mike Conley, springing three-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant into the open court with a chance to put Oklahoma City on top.
Durant 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 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.
“We couldn’t get stops. That’s why we lost,” said Gasol, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds. “We didn’t lose because of free throws.”
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.
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, turned this game around with his defense.
Conley had gotten past him on a drive to the basket when Fisher reached in from behind and knocked the ball free. It was just the stop Oklahoma City needed.
“He makes plays, whether it’s tipping the ball out and getting a steal or hitting the big shot to start the fourth,” Durant said. “Or just his leadership in the huddles and the locker room is big for us. We need that.”
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.
The series opener was a competitive new chapter in an increasingly fierce rivalry, but there weren’t any scuffles this time. They had combined for nine technical fouls in three meetings during the regular season, including one confrontation that got Randolph and Kendrick Perkins ejected.
After letting a seven-point lead slip away in the first half, Memphis surged back ahead with a 15-4 run early in the third quarter that featured two driving layups and a jumper by Conley. The lead stretched to 70-58 when Conley hit a free throw following 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions by Pondexter and Tayshaun Prince.
Thunder 93, Grizzlies 91
Prince 4-10 0-2 9, Randolph 7-16 4-5 18, Gasol 8-14 4-7 20, Conley 5-15 2-3 13, Allen 1-5 1-1 3, Dooling 0-2 0-0 0, Arthur 1-3 0-0 2, Bayless 4-7 0-0 10, Pondexter 4-8 2-5 13, Daye 1-2 1-1 3. Totals 35-82 14-24 91.
OKLAHOMA CITY (93)
Durant 13-26 9-10 35, Ibaka 1-10 3-4 5, Perkins 1-6 0-0 2, Jackson 4-8 4-4 12, Sefolosha 2-5 0-0 4, Martin 8-14 6-7 25, Collison 1-3 0-0 2, Fisher 3-7 0-0 8, Thabeet 0-0 0-0 0, Liggins 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 33-80 22-25 93.
Memphis 16 30 27 18 — 91
Okla. City 14 33 17 29 — 93
3-Point Goals—Memphis 7-19 (Pondexter 3-5, Bayless 2-4, Prince 1-4, Conley 1-5, Dooling 0-1), Oklahoma City 5-15 (Martin 3-5, Fisher 2-3, Liggins 0-1, Perkins 0-1, Sefolosha 0-1, Ibaka 0-1, Jackson 0-1, Durant 0-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Memphis 57 (Gasol, Randolph 10), Oklahoma City 50 (Durant 15). Assists—Memphis 13 (Conley, Gasol, Pondexter 3), Oklahoma City 13 (Durant 6). Total Fouls—Memphis 22, Oklahoma City 22. Technicals—Oklahoma City defensive three second. Flagrant Fouls—Collison. A—18,203 (18,203).