MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Lionel Hollins is a stubborn dude.
He has done an amazing job with these Grizzlies, convinced a handful of second-chance players to believe in themselves (and each other) and created a storyline that has turned this city into an "NBA Town" for the first time in a long time, and arguably ever. But one of Hollins' weaknesses -- though it can be a positive at times -- is that he can be a hard-headed SOB less interested in change than showing you he won't, which is why it was surprising when he announced before tipoff that O.J. Mayo would start instead of Sam Young.
"They were just clamping down on
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Or succumb to him.
Mayo started and played 39 minutes, made six shots and finished with 16 points while pushing the Grizzlies to a 95-83 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday that'll give the world its first Game 7 of these NBA playoffs. Tipoff for that game is Sunday afternoon at 3:30 ET in Oklahoma City. The winner will face the Mavericks in the Western Conference finals.
"We're gonna go there and try to make it a close game," said Grizzlies forward Shane Battier. "We're gonna try to sneak one out."
The night began in a truly "Memphis" way with the Reverend Al Green singing the national anthem before a sellout crowd of 18,119. He was so good that several players started the anthem facing the United States flag with their backs to the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer but slowly turned around to catch a glimpse.
"That was pretty sweet," Battier said. "He's a big reason why my wife and I are married. … Can I say that?"
Yes, Shane. As long as your wife doesn't mind.
Anyway, Battier's 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer was the only thing that allowed the Grizzlies to be down by just 10 points after 24 minutes, and though folks were still waving those "Believe" towels it would be dishonest to suggest everybody still actually, you know, believed. The Thunder were outplaying Memphis for the fifth consecutive game. They seemed on their way to a series-finishing victory, but then their best player -- and the world's best scorer -- stopped making shots and Oklahoma City stopped scoring points.
Kevin Durant was 1 of 10 from the field in the second half.
He missed contested shots and open shots.
He missed runners and long jumpers.
"It was frustrating to go out there and prepare so hard and not play as hard as I wanted," said Durant, who finished with just 11 points on a 3-of-14 shooting effort. "But I have to stay positive."
While Durant was missing shots, Randolph and Mayo were taking advantage of each other's presence. Randolph was 7 of 13 for 20 points in the second half while Mayo was 4 of 6 for 10. They combined for 46 points in the game, helped Memphis outscore the Thunder by a 51-29 margin over the final 24 minutes and complimented each other afterward.
"[Mayo starting] definitely makes a difference because you have to guard O.J.," Randolph said. "He can make shots from outside so it opened up a little bit in the paint. We had great spacing. They had to guard our perimeter."
And now the Thunder will have to do it again -- one last time.
Because Hollins made a lineup change and put a shooter on the court.
And because that shooter opened things up for the Grizzlies' best post player to operate.
Yeah, Hollins is still a stubborn dude.
But he put that personality trait aside on this night.
Consequently, the Mavericks will have to wait till Sunday to find out their next opponent.
"He's just a coach -- a good coach," Mayo said when asked about Hollins' stubbornness. "He came to this franchise and turned it around with his headiness and toughness, and we resemble him a lot. He's got an old-school mentality. Good teams resemble good leaders, and he's the leader of this thing."
Of this thing that lived to play one more game … at least.