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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

After marathon classic, Thunder-Grizzlies now NBA's best show

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- With 25 seconds remaining in a game that would ultimately last 15 minutes longer than originally planned, the fans stood and applauded. They weren't celebrating, exactly, because their hometown Grizzlies were down eight points and about to lose a contest they had hours earlier led by 18. But folks around these parts appreciate good basketball and great efforts. So they stood and applauded anyway because they knew they had just witnessed something the likes of which they might never witness again.

It was 12:42 a.m.

"People are going to be talking about this game for a while," Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant said. "I'm glad I was a part of it."

The Thunder evened their best-of-7 series at two games apiece with a 133-123 triple-overtime victory against the Grizzlies in a game that began Monday and ended Tuesday. It was wild enough to make emotionally unattached viewers say to hell with their bedtimes, incredible enough to be labeled among the most memorable sporting events to ever take place in this Southern city that has played host to countless huge college basketball games, a handful of historic college football games and a heavyweight title fight involving Mike Tyson.

Thunder-Grizzlies: Game 4
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Memphis led by 18 in the second quarter and trailed by 10 in the fourth.

The outcome seemed decided both times.

But then the Grizzlies -- and stop me if you've heard this before, like from Game 3 last Saturday -- rallied late and erased what appeared to be an inerasable deficit. They forced overtime thanks to a 3-pointer from Mike Conley, fell behind 105-98 with less than two minutes remaining in the first overtime, then forced a second overtime when Greivis Vasquez sank a 3-pointer that was as awkward as it was improbable, and at this point you're probably asking why a rookie reserve was taking awkward 26-footers in the final 10 seconds of Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Answer: Because O.J. Mayo and Conley had already fouled out.

"It was very frustrating for me and O.J.," Conley said after getting 16 points and five assists in 37 minutes. "Sitting there and not being able to do anything, everything was out of our control. Having to watch [Oklahoma City] make big plays and not being able to [play] a part in stopping it was tough."

Russell Westbrook -- the Thunder's sometimes unstoppable, other times unwatchable point guard -- had shots to win the game at the end of regulation and second overtime but missed both jumpers and finished 15 for 33 from the field for a game-high 40 points. The UCLA product alternated between creating incredible plays and inexcusable possessions, and if it's possible to frustrate while scoring 40, Westbrook did it, because he couldn't stop trying to close the game -- even though he's not Oklahoma City's best closer.

That title belongs to Durant.

The reigning scoring champion -- and somebody really ought to let Westbrook know he plays with the reigning scoring champion -- got six points in the third overtime, the final two of which came on a 19-foot jumper over Shane Battier that pushed Oklahoma City's lead to 131-123. Durant finished with 35 points on 20 field-goal attempts, meaning Westbrook got only five more points than his teammate despite attempting 13 more shots. And though an argument can be made that the Thunder are wise to exploit a matchup that allows Westbrook to physically overwhelm Conley whenever possible, it still seems silly that Durant has a teammate who has taken 15 more shots than he has taken in this series.

I'm Scott Brooks, I'm fixing that.

Or I'm at least letting Durant touch the ball on crucial possessions.

Either way, this series is now a best-of-3 headed to Oklahoma City for Wednesday's Game 5; Game 6 is set for Friday back here at FedExForum. Odds are neither contest -- nor a possible Game 7 -- will last as long or be as silly as Game 4, but it's impossible to know for sure because this series has already featured one game where the home team overcame a 16-point deficit and another where the visiting team overcame an 18-point deficit.

High-profile like Miami-Boston, it is not, because these are small-market franchises and those are not. But the NBA doesn't have a better show going than Thunder-Grizzlies right now, and that became clear when a sellout crowd that entered a downtown arena on Monday and didn't exit till Tuesday stood and applauded and paid its respect to a game that twisted and turned for nearly four hours before Oklahoma City finally took control and won.

"It was fun," Durant said. "It's something I can tell my kids about -- that I played in a great game like this."


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and college basketball insider for the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts an award-winning radio show in Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two sons and two dogs.
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