Posted May 14 2011 9:39AM
MEMPHIS -- They're a team for everybody who's ever bought a lottery ticket.
Put down your dollar and give yourself a chance.
While some may call it chasing long odds and a foolish pipedream, the simple truth is you can't win if you don't play.
Oh, the Grizzlies play.
They play with passion and zeal, frenzy and fury, grit and grind, to use the local vernacular.
They play with resiliency that is remarkable and the resolute demeanor of a guy who keeps banging and banging on a rock because he knows that eventually it will break if he hits it enough.
The conventional wisdom said that the Grizzlies themselves would break long before now. Yet here they stand on the doorstep of the first Game 7 in franchise history following Friday night's 95-83 victory over the Thunder.
"Game 7 sounds great," said point guard Mike Conley.
"That's what it's all about," said power forward Zach Randolph. "This is what we play for."
"I'm happy for our young guys to get the opportunity to experience this," said coach Lionel Hollins.
This will be the first Game 7 of the 2011 NBA Playoffs and it is only fitting that it is delivered by Memphis and Oklahoma City in what started out as a small-market, under-the-radar, who-cares squabble and has turned into a Middle America epic with a full-throated soundtrack that has caught the rapt attention of a national audience.
With a couple of rosters filled with rising young talent, it could be the blossoming of a long-running rivalry in the Western Conference side of the playoff bracket and everyone likes to say they were in one of the ground floor of a big event. And there are also the subplots involving the star players on both rosters.
This month-long post-season run that began with the No. 8 seed Grizzlies taking down the No. 1 seed Spurs finally let much of the world outside Memphis comprehend how much Randolph's game and maturity have grown.
Ten years into his NBA career, the once-questionable Z-Bo is a player who has risen to the moment, scoring on corkscrew moves around the hoop, raining in long jumpers and becoming the kind of lead horse who can pull a team on a long playoff ride. After being bottled up for four consecutive games by the Thunder's double- and triple-teaming and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach on defense, Randolph erupted in Game 6. He used Hollins' decision to return O.J. Mayo to the starting lineup, which loosened the OKC defense, and then Z-Bo threw off the shackles and rumbled to 30 points and 13 rebounds.
On the other hand, the Thunder's Kevin Durant has continued to provide as many questions as answers. While the debate and the criticism about whether point guard Russell Westbrook shoots too much rages on, Durant kept the pot stirring on Friday night.
After making his first two shots of the game, Durant finished the night shooting 3-for-14 from the field for just 11 points. What was worse was Durant taking nine 3-pointers in the game and making only one.
"It was frustrating to go out there and prepare so hard and not play as hard as I wanted to," Durant said. "Starting off the game like I did, making the first two shots, I got a little bit of confidence. After that, when it goes downhill, it's frustrating."
Thunder coach Scott Brooks placed the blame on the two fouls Durant picked up in the first 4 ½ minutes of the game, saying they got him out of his rhythm.
"He just couldn't get anything to fall, and then he shot too many 3s," Brooks said. "When Kevin's good, he's attacking the basket."
When Durant is good and attacking the basket, he's also a 90 percent foul shooter piling up a dozen or more free throws a game. But he did little more in Game 6 than stand on the side of the road like a hitchhiker with his thumb out.
For all those who constantly harp on him taking over too much of the offense, Westbrook could have looked straight into the post-game TV cameras, nodded toward Durant's somnambulant performance and said, "See?"
"You've got to fight Kevin and battle him and make him hit tough shots," said Grizzlies hair shirt defender Shane Battier. "He's so talented he's gonna make those shots and he has made those shots throughout the series.
"With him you never ease up, so you never really allow yourself to have that thought. Because the second you slack off, he's stepping behind you for a 3. So literally you have to guard him once he steps over the half-court line. Westbrook does a good job, if he's open by a step, it's up and it's in. He's hit a ton of those shots in this series. It's kept me up at night. The deep 3s from the hash mark have kept me up at night."
It's the notion that they could have and should have closed the Grizzlies out already in this series that might have the Thunder tossing and turning. OKC blew a 16-point lead in Game 3 to lose in overtime let a 10-point halftime lead in Game 6 evaporate in practically a heartbeat.
Then again, Memphis coughed up an 18-point lead in the Game 4 classic that they eventually lost in triple-overtime.
"We're both young teams," said Battier. "We're both trying to figure this out. It's both our first time this far. It's sort of like getting the keys to the car for the first time, you're miles away from home, you've got to get home and it's midnight. We both have had the same look at times in this series."
The Thunder, of course, will have the familiar comforts and the rabid support of their home crowd for the deciding Game 7 on Sunday.
The Grizzlies won't have that, but like anyone who's ever bought a lottery ticket and a dream, they have earned what they wanted, their chance.
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|Nightly Notable: Russell Westbrook|
Russell Westbrook records 29 points, nine assists and three steals to lead the Thunder over the Lakers.
|Play of the Day: Ibaka and Westbrook|
Serge Ibaka's swat on Xavier Henry's shot leads to Caron Butler's three-pointer to beat the third quarter buzzer.
|Dunk of the Night: Taj Gibson|
Taj Gibson rises up and throws down a posterizing dunk over Omer Asik.
|Steal of the Night|
Andre Roberson picks Jodie Meeks' pocket leading to Russell Westbrook's big slam to start the game.
|Assist of the Night: Giannis Antetokounmpo|
Giannis Antetokounmpo hits Ersan Ilyasova with a pretty wrap-around pass for the jumper from the top of the key.