The Familiar Road
In an hour of desperation, the Memphis Grizzlies turned to Zach Randolph once more to lift them to a 105-94 playoff win over the San Antonio Spurs
MEMPHIS, Tenn. | What began as a nondescript No. 1 v. No. 8-seed matchup seven seasons ago, became the foundation of what would define the Memphis Grizzlies from that point forward.
Seven years ago, Zach Randolph put a franchise that had never won a playoff game, let alone a playoff series, both on his back and then on the map, leading the Grizzlies to the NBA’s second-ever No. 8 seed upset of a No. 1 in playoff history.
Seven seasons later against the same franchise, David Fizdale knew that if the Grizzlies had any hope of climbing back into their first round series, Randolph again would have to be the difference maker. He said as much before the game.
“I’ve got to play Z-Bo some big minutes tonight,” Fizdale said. “We need him to play well, and there’s no way I’m going to get him the amount of minutes he needs (by) bringing him off the bench.”
Randolph delivered, just as he did all of those years ago, scoring 21 points while grabbing eight rebounds.
“The guys were looking for me and giving me the ball,” Randolph said. “It looked good. We’ve just got to carry on and just put this behind us. We’ve got Saturday to get read for.”
In a season that has been marked with trying to usher in a new era of Grizzlies basketball, the Grizzlies turned back the clocks on Thursday night at FedExForum, harnessing a game plan that looked like it was straight out of the first round of the 2011 Wester Conference Playoff series against the Spurs, feeding Randolph all night long.
“Z-Bo was fantastic,” Fizdale said. “I said it in the interview in the third quarter; it just matters so much to him. The guys have been through so much this year personally, and he’s made the biggest sacrifices.”
“Whether he’s starting for me or coming off the bench, he’s just been fantastic, and I’m just very happy that I got a chance to coach Zach Randolph.”
In a season that seemed like one, in which everything that could go wrong — Mike Conley’s suffering a back injury, Chandler Parsons’ never looking healthy, an injury to Tony Allen during the first quarter of the last game of the season that was meaningless, etc. — went wrong, everything that the Grizzlies needed to go right went right on this night.
The Grizzlies have reached the point in which if Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are ineffective, that fact becomes newsworthy. They were as solid as ever last night, but the for the Grizzlies to have a chance to win, they have to find a third scorer. They needed Randolph to be a difference maker, and he delivered.
The Grizzlies needed a young wings to step up. Wayne Seldon did, scoring 10 points off of the bench and finishing with a +11 in the +/- category.
“They knew this was must win,” Fizdale said of his bench. “You go down 3-0 to the Spurs, and that’s a dismal road. Our guys didn’t want to go there, and they just really, really brought it tonight, and I’m just really proud of how they brought it.”
The Grizzlies needed to find stability in the backcourt, particularly in the minutes in which Fizdale tried to get Mike Conley some much needed rest. Andrew Harrison did that task, providing his team six assists while committing just one turnover.
The Grizzlies needed for their second unit to be competitive. They did that and more, registering a combined +32 amongst the combination of JaMychal Green, Andrew Harrison, Wayne Seldon, and Troy Daniels.
The Grizzlies needed to win the third quarter. They did despite a moment that might have caused long-time Grizzlies fans Post Traumatic Stress.
The Grizzlies came out hot following halftime, quickly scoring five points and forcing a Spurs turnover.
In another Game 3 at home and following a hot start to a half, the Grizzlies watched Gregg Popovich call a timeout and substitute five new players. Grizzlies fans remember how that went in 2013.
However, this time the result would be different as the Grizzlies would extend their lead by another five points before the quarter was done.
When the dust finally settled, the Grizzlies walk off the floor with an easy win and kept dreams of another unlikely upset of the Spurs alive, a familiar scene, and when Zach Randolph exited the floor during the fourth quarter, another familiar scene arose, chants of “Z-Bo! Z-Bo!”.
“It definitely felt with the crowd out there supporting us and hollering my name,” Randolph said. Like I said, we’ve got a lot of work to do, and it’s just the beginning.”
Whether or not this was the beginning of another improbable series win remains to be seen, but for Grizzlies fans, tonight didn’t feel like a beginning. Rather, it felt like the beginning.
For now, that was enough.