MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis Grizzlies may have finally figured out how to keep the Oklahoma City Thunder from smothering Zach Randolph.
O.J. Mayo moved back into the starting lineup, and his scoring threat from the outside gave Randolph enough room to score 30 points and grab 13 rebounds Friday night as the Grizzlies avoided elimination by beating the Thunder 95-83 to push their Western Conference semifinal to a deciding Game 7.
"It definitely made a difference," Randolph said. "O.J. can knock down some shots from the outside. It opened up a little bit tonight in the paint. We had great spacing. They've got to guard our perimeters, Mike (Conley) and O.J., so it definitely did make a difference tonight."
Mayo moved from the starting lineup to the bench at the start of January, though he did start the final two games of the regular season with the Grizzlies resting for the postseason. But the Thunder had held Randolph to 31.9 percent shooting since he scored 34 points in Game 1 of this series, so Memphis coach Lionel Hollins started Mayo in place of Sam Young.
"They were just clamping down on Zach with two or three guys," Hollins said. "We felt like if we put a shooter out there they would have to honor him, and they did. Juice got some shots early on. He got some drives. You have to have some balance outside as well as inside. I just felt like in my gut that was the move to make."
Now the Grizzlies and Thunder will play the first Game 7 in these NBA playoffs on Sunday with the winner advancing to face the well-rested Dallas Mavericks in the West finals.
"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."
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.
Mayo scored 16 points for Memphis. Conley had 11 points and a franchise playoff-record 12 assists, and Tony Allen added 10 points. Now the Grizzlies are 5-1 on their home court this postseason, this win celebrated by sellout crowd that stood 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 season-worst 11 points on 3-of-14 shooting. It was his lowest scoring game since he had six points in eight minutes Feb. 27, 2009, at Dallas.
"He saved himself for Sunday," Hollins quipped.
Durant called his performance frustrating but immediately looked to Game 7.
"It's going to be a tough Game 7 at our place," Durant said. "I'm looking forward to it."
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 his career playoff-best scoring output 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.
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."
Mayo, told by Hollins he would start before the morning shootaround, called Randolph's play 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."
One sequence late summed up the Thunder's offensive woes. 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.
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. ... Mayo also had four steals and four assists. ... The Thunder hit 11 of 20 in the second quarter when they outscored Memphis 30-21.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company