The Grizzlies pulled out the win in a choppy performance for both teams following a three-day layoff since Game 2 with the Thunder beating them at their own game, dominating the boards and in the paint. After struggling at the free throw line in Oklahoma City, the Grizzlies hit all six at the line in the final 1:03 to clinch it.
"We just stayed after it like we've done all year long," Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. "It's not always pretty. Tonight wasn't pretty, but it was pretty for us because we got the win."
Game 4 is Monday night in Memphis, and Hollins wants one more home win for a franchise in its second Western semifinal in two seasons. The Grizzlies lost to Oklahoma City in seven games in 2011 after splitting Games 3 and 4 in Memphis. But they are 18-1 at home since Feb. 8.
"I'd rather take my chances with where we're sitting now and try to win all of our home games," Hollins said. "We got a long way to go, and we got to keep battling."
Kevin Durant scored 25 points, but only two in the fourth quarter. A 91 percent free throw shooter in the regular season, Durant missed two with 39.3 seconds left. Durant also had 11 rebounds and five assists.
"It's frustrating, but we can't hang our heads," Durant said. "We have to keep playing and keep improving. We just have to learn from it. We have to embrace the tough times and get better from it. I believe in my teammates."
Though his teammates, with Russell Westbrook out with a knee injury, need to give him more help.
The Thunder had their worst scoring and shooting performance this postseason. Reggie Jackson had 16 points for Oklahoma city, and Kevin Martin and Serge Ibaka each added 13. Jackson and Ibaka also grabbed 10 rebounds apiece. Durant went 3 of 11 from the floor in the second half, and his teammates went a combined 23 of 69 for the game.
Tony Allen had his best game in this series, scoring 14 points for Memphis. Jerryd Bayless added 11. Zach Randolph scored only eight points but had 10 rebounds.
"It was definitely a good feeling because we didn't play the best Grizzlies' basketball that we know we can play as a team," Randolph said.
Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks insisted he liked the shots his Thunder took, even though they didn't get as many wide-open looks beyond the arc as they did in the first two games.
"We are hopeful that we get those same shots in the next game," Brooks said.
The Grizzlies built leads repeatedly, getting to as much as 10 in the second quarter.
Memphis won despite not winning in the categories the Grizzlies usually dominate. The Thunder outrebounded them 51-44, with a 14-5 edge on the offensive glass. The Thunder also outscored the Grizz 44-30 in the paint, with a 23-7 edge on fast-break points.
The Thunder didn't score after Derek Fisher hit a 3-pointer with 1:58 left, a shot tying for the eighth and final time at 81. The Grizzlies' edge came from getting to the line where they hit more free throws (23 of 28) than Oklahoma City even took (12 of 19).
"Obviously, they beat us in a lot of different areas tonight," said Memphis guard Mike Conley, who hit all four free throws in the final minute. "For us to come away with the win, we are very happy. We will take it, but it just goes to show we have a lot of work to do. We have to do better the next game."
The rust from the layoff showed early for both teams. Ibaka missed not one but two dunks in the first half, Thabo Sefolosha had an airball and the Grizzlies, who had been so good at limiting turnovers, had five in the first quarter alone.
Hollins switched up his defense on Durant from the first two games in Oklahoma City.
He didn't put Allen, who finished fifth in voting for Defensive Player of the Year, on Durant until the final minutes of Game 2. This time, he alternated Allen with Tayshaun Prince defending Durant throughout the first half. Allen played Durant most of the third, and that helped limit Durant to 2 of 7 shooting in the quarter as the Thunder went 4 of 20 from the floor.
"He is a great defender, don't get me wrong," Durant said about Allen. "But it's the Grizzlies' team defense. I need to make the right plays for my team. I missed a few shots in the second half."
Memphis led 66-60 at the end of the third quarter. The Grizzlies pushed that to 71-62 on a 3 by Keyon Dooling and a 19-foot jumper by Darrell Arthur. Then the Thunder scored six straight, the last on a dunk by Martin forcing Hollins to take a timeout.
The Grizzlies, who had hit only one of their first nine 3-pointers, hit 3 of 5 in the third quarter to take a 77-70 lead when Pondexter knocked down a 3 with 6:29 left. Pondexter also helped defend Durant in the fourth quarter.
The Thunder led 45-44 at halftime. Durant scored 14 of the Thunder's first 24 points as he connected on five of his first six shots.
The Grizzlies grabbed their biggest lead at 28-18 on a 28-footer by Bayless. Then Gasol picked up his second foul with 9:02 left and went to the bench for the rest of the half.
R Marc Gasol scores 16 of his 20 points in the second half as the Grizzlies fend off OKC.
• Kevin Durant scores 25 for the Thunder, but misses two FTs with 39.3 to go.