The Oklahoma City Thunder found themselves in prime position to force overtime or win their Game 5 matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies.
With 4.9 seconds left in the game, Kevin Durant hoisted a 16-foot jumper which ironed out long and sent the Thunder into the 2013 NBA offseason.
Memphis held a 12-point lead with 4:13 before the Thunder began chipping their way back into the game. Oklahoma City fought for their playoff lives for the final four minutes and with 14.3 seconds left, Reggie Jackson hit a 28-foot three that cut the Grizzlies' lead to 86-84.
Zach Randolph, who had a monster game, was immediately fouled after Jackson's three. Z-Bo went to the line and proceeded to miss both free throws with 11.3 seconds remaining. The Thunder grabbed the rebound on the second miss, but couldn't come through as Durant missed his game-tying opportunity with 4.9 seconds left.
The Thunder started the game with as much energy as they finished. They jumped out to a 7-0 run to start the game and found themselves up five after the first 12 minutes.
Memphis couldn't hit anything in the first quarter, shooting 32 percent (8-25 FG) and 0-3 from beyond the arc. Still they managed to turn a 7-0 Thunder run into an 18-16 run to close the period. Serge Ibaka turned in nine points and five rebounds in the first, but Durant got off to a horrid start going 1-8 for four points.
It didn't get much better for Durant in the second quarter.
Durant only attempted three shots in the second period while turning the ball over three times. He also missed three free throws in the frame.
Oklahoma City struggled to score with Durant hoisting just three shots. The rest of the team made three shots for seven points, turned it over four times and gave up four offensive rebounds.
The Thunder also gave up 32 points in the second. Randolph scored 11 points and pulled down four rebounds during the Grizzlies' run. Jerryd Bayless poured in six points and two assists off the bench as well.
The Grizzlies went cold again in the third period as they allowed the struggling Thunder to outscore them 24-14 in the third frame.
Durant and Derek Fisher combined for 11 of the Thunder's 24 in the period while Ibaka and Sefolosha combined for nine. Oklahoma City pulled down six offensive rebounds in the quarter, which allowed them to cut Memphis' 12-point halftime lead to two going into the fourth quarter.
The Grizzlies turned a two-point lead into a 12-point lead in the first six minutes of the fourth. Oklahoma City struggled again offensively and just couldn't get the ball to fall through the net. They also turned the ball over four times before starting their late comeback.
Eventually Oklahoma City started to get back into the game. Memphis got a little content defensively and started allowing the thunder to get the open looks they had been searching for in the first 40 minutes. However, it just wasn't enough as Durant's game-tying attempt with less than five seconds clanked off the back of the rim and sent the Thunder into the offseason.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
First thought: Wow, the Thunder are really, really good with Russell Westbrook.
Second thought: I'm not sure anybody can be really disappointed with the way the Thunder gutted it out after losing their starting point guard for the rest of the season.
If there's one thing to say about Scott Brooks right now, it's that his team plays as hard as they can for him until the last second of the last game. He may not be God's gift to coaching offense, but he does get every ounce of energy out of his players for 48 minutes every night.
It was fairly obvious the Thunder weren't going to do much without Westbrook. In fact, had they advanced to the Western Conference Finals without him, it would have been quite an accomplishment. However, they didn't and now it's time to regroup.
Sam Presti and the Thunder organization have plenty to ponder this offseason. Do they amnesty Kendrick Perkins? Do they let Kevin Martin walk? What will they do with their lottery pick?
It's doubtful there were many people expecting an early exit once the season tipped off in October, but now that the season is over, it's time to focus on 2013-2014.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder lost?
They weren't the better team, period.
The Grizzlies deserved to win this series. They outmatched the Thunder, at times out-coached them and for nearly five games, out-executed them.
Obviously there's more than just one reason OKC fell short of reaching the Finals for a second straight season. Durant had to do it all, the role players didn't play well enough, Perkins played too much.
At the end of the day, however, a five-game series loss is a five-game series loss. You just don't lose in five games if you deserved to win.
What does this game tell us about what to expect for next season?
If there's a good thing about losing Russell Westbrook, it's the fact that Presti got the opportunity to see what the team looks like without two superstars controlling the entire offense.
I would expect moves to be made this offseason and I would expect drastic lineup changes. The team will likely amnesty Perkins and with the postseason Martin turned in, it will be surprising to see the team resign him.
Now the Thunder can move forward and build upon what they know they have. They have a team that, when healthy, can dominate the Western Conference. This offseason presents a great opportunity for the organization to go out and get the players and personnel Durant and Westbrook need around them for their second NBA Finals run and to continue to dominate the Western Conference.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 21 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists.
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, 17 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks
Thunder Blunder: Kendrick Perkins, 2 points, 3 rebounds, 3 turnovers
Thunder Plunderer: Zach Randolph, 28 points, 14 rebounds, 2 steals.
Next game: Game 1 of the 2013-2014 NBA regular season.
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