Randolph carries Grizzlies past Spurs, into semis
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The Memphis Grizzlies have learned when Zach Randolph wants the ball, get him the ball.
The power forward scored 17 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter Friday night, almost single-handedly knocking out the top-seeded Spurs in the Grizzlies' 99-91 victory that wrapped up their first playoff series win and an improbable berth in the Western Conference semifinals.
Randolph took over after the Spurs grabbed only their second lead of the game at 80-79, scoring 10 of the next 14 points to finish off the series in six games.
"He put the whole team on his back and delivered," teammate Marc Gasol said. "That was, for me on the court, one of the most unreal performances in the fourth quarter in a long time. The last 4 or 5 minutes of the game, he just carried us. It was unbelievable."
Guard Tony Allen said Randolph demanded the ball, whooping and hollering for teammates to pass to him.
"That's why they pay him the big bucks as Zach Randolph," Allen said. "He's a monster down there. He demands attention in that block."
Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said Randolph let him know how much he had wanted to be on the floor late the Grizzlies' loss Wednesday night in San Antonio.
Hollins said he told Randolph he would have to have an even better game Friday.
Randolph certainly did.
"From a pick-me-up perspective, we just got on his back, and we rode him like he was an English warhorse," Hollins said. "He was really carrying us, We were just hanging on."
Randolph's performance helped the Grizzlies become only the second No. 8 seed to knock off a No. 1 seed since the NBA switched to a best-of-seven series. Golden State beat Dallas in 2007.
It's an improbable victory for a franchise considered a good bet for contraction in October, best known for losing its first 12 playoff games for an unenviable NBA mark. This town desperately needed a hero, and the sellout crowd tensed at every Spurs' run Friday night and cheered every Memphis bucket.
As the final seconds ticked down, fans waved their white towels while a sign declaring "Grizzlies Win" glared around the FedExForum.
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich moved down the sideline to congratulate Hollins with a hug and a word in his ear, while players shook hands. The Grizzlies then gathered at midcourt in a team celebration as the Spurs headed for the locker room.
"I think we're all emotional," Gasol said. "Some people might show it a little more, some people kept it more inside of them. But we have an emotional team, and we have an emotional city. I think we represent pretty good for the city of Memphis."
Now the Grizzlies start the semifinals Sunday in Oklahoma City.
Memphis dominated in closing out this series, outrebounding the Spurs 43-32 and outscoring them in the paint 62-38 in their best performance yet in the postseason. The Grizzlies also held the NBA's best 3-point shooters to 5-of-22 shooting, which had Popovich congratulating them on their team defense.
"They were the better team, and they played better than we did," Popovich said. "I thought their athleticism, their strength, their size really hurt us offensively. We could not get a lot done. We really had trouble scoring against their defense. They deserve a lot of credit for that. Obviously, I am sad about the loss but happy for them and what they have accomplished."
Gasol had 12 points and 13 rebounds for Memphis. Allen added 11 points, and rookie Greivis Vasquez had 11 off the bench playing 24 minutes with Mike Conley in foul trouble most of the game.
Tony Parker led San Antonio with 23 points, Manu Ginobili had 16, Tim Duncan 12 and Antonio McDyess 10.
Duncan left the court five days after turning 35 for what might have been the last time, not that he said anything to his teammates.
"And I don't need to say anything," Duncan said.
The Spurs, winners of 61 games in the regular season and the dynasty with four NBA titles with Duncan, thought they had the game in hand after McDyess hit a jumper for an 80-79 lead with 4:41 left.
Randolph scored 10 of the next 14 for Memphis, with his hook putting Memphis ahead to stay at 81-80. Conley added a jumper, then Randolph hit a fallaway jumper, two free throws and another fallaway jumper for an 89-82 lead with 1:55 left. Randolph went to the bench to a huge cheer with 3.4 seconds left.
"Emotion is high, not just for the Memphis Grizzlies but for the whole city of Memphis and the fans," Randolph said. "It's something. It's a great accomplishment. We've got to be happy. We should be happy. But it's a quick turnaround. We've got a game Sunday, and we have to get ready."
As Randolph took over, the experienced Spurs turned the ball over three straight times. One desperate pass from Ginobili went right off Parker's hands.
"We played well all season long," Parker said. "As you know, it doesn't mean anything if you don't play well in the playoffs, and overall Memphis played better than us. Have to give them credit. Had a chance at the end, up one, 5 minutes to go. We didn't make the plays we needed to play."
The Grizzlies were criticized for ending the regular season with two losses. Hollins rested Randolph and Allen with critics accusing them of trying to avoid the Lakers and draw the Spurs. San Antonio was the veteran team with lots of postseason experience compared to Memphis, which had eight players making their playoff debut in this series.
But Memphis won Game 1 and never backed off.
"They said they wanted us, and they took care of their job," McDyess said. "I think that first game set the tone for us. We didn't come out like we were really ready to win that first game. They came out more aggressive and they set the tone for the whole playoffs."
NOTES: The Spurs had five turnovers and missed four shots in the first 5 minutes before Parker hit their first field goal with 7:05 left in the first. ... Parker had 17 of his 23 points in the second half. ... Vasquez scored in double figures five times in 70 games in his rookie season. ... Randolph's 31 points are a franchise record in the team's 18th playoff game. Pau Gasol had 28 on May 1, 2005, against Phoenix.