If ever there was a game that showed the value of mental toughness, it would be the Memphis Grizzlies‘ 111-105 overtime triumph over the host Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 2 of their Western Conference quarterfinals matchup. Entering the game, trailing 1-0 in their best-of-seven series, the Grizzlies were well aware of the challenges that awaited them in Game 2. The Thunder, co-owners of the best home court record in the Western Conference at 34-7, thrive off the energy of the Chesapeake Energy Arena faithful.
Add the NBA‘s leading scorer in Kevin Durant and the league’s most explosive PG in Russell Westbrook and one can start to get a grasp of the magnitude of the test that was in store for this veteran Grizzlies team. This is where it gets fun. Memphis held a 98-93 lead with 18 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. A miraculous Durant three-pointer made while getting fouled by Marc Gasol sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Durant completed the improbable four-point-play and the Grizzlies’ lead was trimmed to one. After Mike Conley went one-for-two from the free throw line, Westbrook’s errant three-point attempt fell kindly to Kendrick Perkins, who was able to lay-in the tying bucket as time expired.
Memphis had done everything right. They had gotten productive games from their bigs, Gasol and Zach Randolph, who ended up combining for 41 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists when it was all said and done. The bench, an area Memphis will have entered the series thinking they held the advantage, proved to be just that as they outscored their Thunder counterparts 33-14. Conley, coming off a career year, more than held his own against Westbrook, posting a respectable 19 points and 12 assists night.
To play this good of an all-around game and blow a five-point lead with 18 seconds remaining should have been crippling. Despite the pit of agony that was surely firmly lodged in each Grizzlies player’s stomach (and fans for that matter), the Grizzlies, buoyed by the inspirational words of defending NBA champion Mike Miller, now a key contributor off the Memphis bench, rallied in overtime. In essence, they took a heavyweight hit to the chops and got back up. Coincidentally, it was the Grizzlies’ heavyweight in the form of Randolph who did the damage in overtime, to the tune of eight points in the extra frame.
His unique blend of brutish low-post play accompanied by a feathery jumper proved too much for Serge Ibaka and the Thunder to handle. Looking ahead to Game 3 on Thursday in Memphis, this series looks drastically different than it should. The way things ended in the fourth quarter, Oklahoma City should be heading on the road holding a 2-0 edge in the series. Memphis should be confused and wondering how/where it all went wrong down the stretch in Game 2.
It is difficult to quantify mental toughness. It doesn’t show up in the box score. In today’s age of number crunching, it is also nowhere to be found. The untraceable stat is one you either have or you do not. Right now, with the series tied 1-1, the Memphis Grizzlies have it.