The Oklahoma City Thunder were officially eliminated from the playoffs Wednesday night after losing in Game 5 to the Memphis Grizzlies.
But unofficially, the Thunder’s hopes came to an end much earlier when the team’s second-best player went down in the first round.
The top seed in the Western Conference was never quite the same after Russel Westbrook was injured against the Houston Rockets in the first round. Despite a 3-0 series lead, they let the Rockets get back in the series with two wins before closing out the series in Game 6.
Then came the Memphis Grizzlies, who looked too physical for the Thunder. Memphis won 88-84 on Wednesday night behind 28 points and 14 rebounds from Zach Randolph.
After eliminating the Thunder, the Grizzlies are off to the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history. Before this season the Grizzlies had just one postseason win.
“This is the first time, so it definitely means a lot. I’m happy, but we’ve still got work to do,” Randolph said. “I want to win a ring.”
The Grizzlies suddenly look like a team that can contend for the title, and now wait for the winner of the San Antonio Spurs-Golden State Warriors series to find out their next opponent.
“We’re trying to do something really special. We want to go as far as we can go,” coach Lionel Hollins said. “To get there, we had to get through Oklahoma City. And now, we have to get through either Golden State or San Antonio to get further.”
The Thunder didn’t got down in Game 5 without a fight. They were down 12 points with three minutes left in Wednesday’s contest, but had a chance to tie it as time wound down. Kevin Durant missed a 16-foot jumper from the wing with 6 seconds remaining, a fitting end to a night in which he made only five of the 21 shots he attempted.
“I gave it all I had for my team. I left it all out there on the floor,” Durant said. “I missed 16 shots, but I kept fighting, I kept being aggressive. That’s all I can ask for.”
After reaching the NBA finals last season, the Thunder will now have to wait another year for a chance at a title.