By Karanja A. Ajanaku, [email protected]
No matter the game, when a player or team goes up against a mountainous and perceptively superior and stronger foe, success often results from a gradual – and largely imperceptible – process.
The key some sports sages say is threefold: stick together through the bad times, develop a game plan to narrow the mountain’s broad base and to rely upon a proven camaraderie with a superior man for stability.
Grizzlies vs Spurs, Game 3: Memphis 103, the mountain – also known as the St. Antonio Spurs – 85.
The Grizzlies had lost 9 straight playoff games and 10 straight to the Spurs before Wednesday night’s victory at the FedExForum; a win in the opening round of the NBA Western Conference Playoffs.
The stabilizing force for Memphis was Zach Randolph: 21 points, 8 rebounds and a superior presence that was so visibly on display that it lit up the house.
“It was fun to see him (Randolph) succeed doing the things he has done here for so many years,” Mike Conley, the Grizzlies starting point and floor general, said.
“It was almost like he was a secret weapon tonight. We finally unleashed him. And man, he really changed the game – hopefully changed the series – and gave us some confidence.”
Doing his job coming off the bench for most of the year, it was widely thought that Z-bo would be in the starting line-up for Game 3 after impacting the Grizzlies so positively in the Game-2 loss.
“It felt good out there to start and get a rhythm and get in a rhythm out there faster,” Randolph said.
“The guys were looking for me and giving me the ball. It looked good. We’ve just got to carry on and just put this behind us. We’ve got Saturday to get ready for.”
Grizzlies Head Coach David Fizdale said the Grizzlies’ success means so much to Randolph.
“The guys been through so much this year personally and he’s made the biggest sacrifices. Whether he’s starting for or coming off of the bench, he’s just been fantastic and I’m just very happy that I got a chance to coach Zach Randolph.”
Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich was asked before the game about the Grizzlies possibly altering their starting lineup.
“It doesn’t change anything that we might do. We’ve got to guard whoever is on the court and if he’s on the court (Zach Randolph), we’ve got to try and guard him,” Popovich said.
“You can’t change your spots at this point in the season. We’ve got to just be who we are and whoever they start, they start. I don’t have any control over that.”
Afterwards, he pointed to Memphis’ aggressiveness.
“They were very focused and executed well on both ends of the court. They made it really tough on us offensively….They put us in the mud…”
Randolph was the man with men-sized help digging a hole for the Spurs. Conley (24 points, 8 assists), Marc Gasol (21 points, 6 rebounds) got ample support from the likes of James Ennis III (12 points, 2 rebounds) and an engaged bench.
Conley noted the effort from the bench, with guys making more shots, being aggressive and doing the best they could with their matchups.
“That opened it up for a lot of us, especially Z-bo,” he said.
On this night, the toppling of the Spurs saw their superstar anchor Kawhi Leonard held to 18 points after 30-point-plus performances in the first two games. And point guard Tony Parker, whose resurgence in the playoffs helped bury the Grizzlies in the opening games, didn’t score a point.
Conley said Memphis would not be going into Game 4 thinking that the team had the success for chopping down the Spurs all worked out.
“They are going to come back and make adjustments and the adjustments could be something that you would never think of,” he told The New Tri-State Defender’s GritGrindGrizz columnist Lee Eric Smith. “It’s going to be something and we’ve got to be ready.”
Game 4 is going to be the ultimate test,” Conley said.
“It’s going to be the most important game for us in the sense that if we come out with the same mindset, the same amount of intensity to show that this wasn’t a one-game thing and that we can do it multiple games back to back. That can change the series.
“And literally, if we can get back to San Antonio 2-2, it’s anybody’s game. So that’s the way we look at it.”