Soon after Mike Miller tortured the Oklahoma City Thunder with a pair of clutch 3-pointers Tuesday night in overtime of Game 5, the Grizzlies’ veteran swingman read a text on his cell phone that was quite apropos.
Memphis blew a 20-point lead and escaped with a one-point win in the fourth consecutive overtime game between the teams.
“Someone text me and said ‘Can you guys make it a little easier?’ Miller relayed before sharing his response: “But that wouldn’t be the Memphis Grizzlies’ style.”
In a season that’s been characterized by beating the odds, the Griz have a chance to overcome again. Memphis leads 3-2 in their first-round playoff series. A victory Thursday night in Game 6 at FedExForum means the Griz advance to the Western Conference semifinals for a second straight season.
Memphis can become just the second No. 7 seed in NBA history to defeat a No. 2 seed in a best-of-seven series, joining San Antonio’s 2010 win over Dallas.
That, after a slow start to the season due to poor performance, a rash of injuries and a need for the Griz to essentially win their final five games of the regular season.
“This team has been built off defying the odds and always being overlooked,” point guard Mike Conley said. “This team, this year, is no different than other teams we’ve had here. We’ve thrived off beating the odds. We’ve motivated ourselves off it. At the end of the year, we just try to go out there and play our ball and give ourselves a chance. We’ve given ourselves a real good chance to get this one at home.”
Coach Joerger has spent as much time on making sure his team stays hungry as he has creating constructive adjustments with the game plan.
“We play our best when we play with some urgency,” Joerger said. “Not tightness. But a sense of ‘Hey, let’s get it on.’”
The Griz have blown leads in each game that needed an extra period to decide. They won three of those contests due to greater poise and discipline. Then again, the Griz boast more championship experience than the Thunder. Memphis swingmen Miller, Tony Allen, Beno Udrih and Tayshaun Prince won NBA titles before joining the Griz.
Miller won two in consecutive seasons with the Miami Heat. He’s constantly imparting his experiences so that teammates maintain focus. Miller reminded the Griz Wednesday about when the 2012 Heat trailed the Boston Celtics 3-2 before rallying to win the series.
“We’re 3-2 but a long way from being done,” Miller said, adding that “the series is far from over. It’s still a race to four. We like where we’re at but we’ve got a lot to accomplish.”
Still, proving people wrong has been an inspiration since last summer. Forward Zach Randolph remembers being taken aback at preseason predictions that didn’t think highly of a Griz squad that made the Western Conference Finals last season.
“We were picked not even to make the playoffs and people weren’t talking about us,” Randolph said. “But we knew we had a good team. We knew we didn’t get off to a good start and then the injuries came. But we got together. After the all-star break we had one of the best records. …You look at how this team is made up and all of these guys have been through something. Nothing’s come easy. We take that as motivation when people don’t expect anything from us. We know what we can do. We believe in each other.”
The Griz banded together well enough to produce a more balanced offensive attack, keep the league’s presumptive MVP Kevin Durant in check and hold the Thunder to 39.7 percent shooting in the series.
Memphis is looking to do more of the same in order to end the series at home rather than return to Oklahoma City for a Game 7 on Saturday.
“The close-out game is most important. We have to continue to fight and play as if we’re that team that nobody thinks can win,” Conley said. “Nobody expected us to go into Oklahoma City and win (Tuesday) night. So we have to continue to be that team with the same hunger and sense of urgency even though we’re up 3-2.”