By TERESA M. WALKER, AP Sports Writer
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Just keep counting Zach Randolph and the Memphis Grizzlies out. They revel in that underdog status.
Now the team few outside of Memphis ever noticed before this postseason has provided the NBA with the first Game 7 of these playoffs.
Randolph had 30 points and 13 rebounds, and the Grizzlies avoided elimination by beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 95-83 Friday night to push their Western Conference semifinal to a deciding game.
“We just have to go out and do it again,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “I know all of the pundits think it’s over. They’ve been saying we would win tonight, and Oklahoma City would win in seven, but it’s not over yet. We have to go win that game, and I’m looking forward to it.”
The Grizzlies had never won a game before when facing elimination, but that was back in 2004, 2005 and 2006, when they were swept out of the postseason each of those years. These Grizzlies are having not only the best playoff run in franchise history, but they now have won more games this postseason than any other No. 8 seed from the West.
Game 7 will be Sunday in Oklahoma City, with the winner advancing to play the well-rested Dallas Mavericks.
“This is where we want to be playing, Game 7, that one game to get to the Western Conference finals,” Randolph said. “It’s important. I feel good, but the job ain’t done yet. We know it’s going to be tough going to Oklahoma trying to win that game. We believe we can do it, and we’re committed.”
O.J. Mayo, who started in place of Sam Young, scored 16 points for Memphis. Mike Conley had 11 points and a franchise playoff-record 12 assists, and Tony Allen added 10 points as the Grizzlies improved to 5-1 on their home court this postseason, with a sellout crowd standing for the entire second half cheering to keep this stunning run going at least one more game.
“We like people betting against us,” Conley said. “It motivates us. We know a lot of people don’t believe other than in the city of Memphis that we can get this done. We believe we can. That’s all that matters.”
Memphis outscored the Thunder 51-29 in the second half and 46-38 in the paint overall.
Russell Westbrook led the Thunder with 27 points, and James Harden had 14. Kevin Durant, the NBA’s leading scorer in the regular season, was held to a postseason-low 11 points on 3 of 14 shooting. He was 1 of 9 from beyond the arc.
“It’s going to be a tough Game 7 at our place,” Durant said. “I’m looking forward to it. I started the game off like I did … After that, it goes downhill. It’s frustrating.”
Westbrook refused to call this a blown opportunity.
“We got one more game, and we’ve got to be able to close it out,” he said.
Randolph had been limited to just 19.8 points and 31.9 percent shooting since he scored a career playoff-best 34 points in Game 1. He had been the focus of the Thunder’s defense and had just nine points on 3 of 9 shooting in Game 5. Hollins credited the difference to having 48 more hours to recover from their triple-overtime loss Monday.
“Obviously, we’ve been a team that’s been able to come from behind all year long, and we did it again tonight,” Hollins said.
The power forward, named to the All-NBA’s third team on Friday, scored 12 in the fourth to preserve Memphis’ lead. Randolph scored six straight points, capped by a 12-foot fallaway jumper that sent the fans into a frenzy chanting his nickname.
“He was making jump shots, and he was making contested jump shots,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “He’s third-team All-NBA for a reason. That guy is a player, and when he gets it going, you only can do what you can do and that is contest his shot and force him to take tough shots and he made some tough shots tonight.”
Randolph said Mayo’s addition to the starting lineup helped give him more space with the Thunder forced to honor the guard. Hollins told Mayo he would be starting before the morning shootaround but called Randolph unbelievable.
“He never fails,” Mayo said. “You can live when he has a bad game because he plays so many incredible games, and down the stretch he carries us so much that when he has a bad game, you’re like ‘OK, he’s a little human.’ But pretty much, he never fails us.”
Oklahoma City just couldn’t get to the basket or sink shots in the second half. The Thunder had a fast break with Westbrook driving to the basket, but he just couldn’t finish the shot. Randolph came up with the rebound, then Mayo hit a 19-footer to push the Grizzlies’ lead to 88-79 with 3:11 left.
The Thunder had their biggest lead at 54-41 just before halftime and looked ready to blow out Memphis, just as they did in Game 5 on Wednesday night in Oklahoma City.
But Shane Battier ended the first half with a 3-pointer, and the Grizzlies used that as the start of an 18-5 run into the third. Randolph’s bucket with 5:19 left in the third tied it at 59, Gasol tied it again at 65, and Mayo’s three-point play put Memphis ahead to stay at 68-65 with 2:10 left.
Durant picked up his second personal on a questionable offensive foul with 7:37 left in the first quarter and sat for the rest of the period. With Battier defending him most of the night, Durant went 1 of 10 from the floor in the second half. Hollins downplayed anything the Grizzlies did defending Durant.
“He saved himself for Sunday,” Hollins quipped.
The Thunder used a 20-7 spurt during which Westbrook scored seven, and Harden capped it with back-to-back 3-pointers for a 52-39 lead with 1:03 remaining in the second quarter. Unlike Game 5, they couldn’t build on this lead.
NOTES: Young had a tough day Friday. He found his car had been stolen after the morning shootaround. It was retrieved 15 minutes or so later, and he credited OnStar for the recovery. … The Denver Nuggets won six postseason games as a No. 8 seed in 1994. … The stats crew struggled, counting a travel by James Harden late in the first quarter as a bucket and showing a tie at 23-23 at the end of the quarter. They didn’t get it corrected until 8:24 left in the second quarter, a span of more than five minutes. The public address announcer noted the score change. … The Thunder hit 11 of 20 in the second quarter when they outscored Memphis 30-21.
(This version CORRECTS Grizzlies 95, Thunder 83. Corrects 17th paragraph to show Randolph had 12 points, not 11 in fourth quarter.)
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